BRITISH COLUMBIA

Mounties examine memory card related to woman's hang-gliding death

08/23/2012 04:21 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT
AGASSIZ, B.C. - One day after an independent review concluded pilot error was likely to blame for a deadly hang-gliding accident, Mounties have announced they are continuing their own investigation into the tragedy.

RCMP Const. Tracy Wolbeck said in a news release issued Thursday that police have reviewed a memory card thought to be related to the April 28 tandem hang-gliding death of 27-year-old Lenami Godinez-Avila.

Godinez-Avila fell about 300 metres, moments after taking off with pilot William Orders from Mount Woodside in Agassiz, B.C.

The flight was purchased by her boyfriend who wanted to mark the couple's two-year anniversary and was watching and waiting for his own turn when the tragedy occurred.

"We are not in a position to discuss the content of the information that has been retrieved from the card as this is evidence that could potentially be before the court," said Wolbeck.

Wolbeck said the evidence could be used in the April 15, 2013 trial of Orders, who was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly swallowing the card from his camera after the accident.

He does not face any other charges. He had been held in custody after the incident until the memory card passed through his system.

Orders' lawyer, Laird Cruickshank, could not be reached for comment.

Late Wednesday, the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada announced that its own investigation determined human error, not weather or faulty equipment, caused the tragedy.

According to the report, the passenger's harness was not connected to the glider during take off, and a "hang-check" was not performed, even though Orders had taken a tandem re-certification course just weeks before.

"The investigation was unable to determine the reason for the omission of the critical pre-launch safety checks," it stated.

The report notes, though, that multiple distractions may have resulted in a breakdown of standard operating procedures.

Bruce Busby, vice-president of the association, said Orders was celebrating his 50th birthday on the day of the tragedy and his daughter was watching.

Godinez-Avila and her boyfriend were also participating in flights at the time.

The association's investigation came to the conclusions after examining the passenger's and pilot's harnesses, the glider and talking to witnesses, said Busby who noted Orders is a member of the association but is currently suspended.

The report didn't include statements from Orders

Following the accident, Orders issued a statement through Cruickshank, apologizing to Godinez-Avila's family and friends as well as the general public.

He also told reporters in May that he was under "overwhelming stress" after the accident.

Orders said his goal was to give Godinez-Avila an "amazing adventure and lots of smiles, but because he failed in such a major way," he has decided never to return to hang gliding.

Cruickshank said in May the incident was traumatic for his client and difficult to deal with.

Orders is a permanent resident of Canada and has surrendered two regular passports and an emergency passport — for New Zealand, the U.K. and Australia — all of which have expired, Cruickshank said at the time.

Busby said the association will release recommendations so that a similar tragedy doesn't happen again.

In fact, he said a tandem passenger has never died in Canada.