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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 19:48 GMT
Paraglider survives at 32,000ft
Ewa Wisnierska
Ewa Wisnierska says she felt like an astronaut returning from the Moon
A German paragliding champion has survived being sucked into a storm that pulled her higher than Mount Everest.

Ewa Wisnierska, 35, who lost consciousness as she soared skywards, was covered in ice and battled hailstones the size of oranges.

She was pulled 9,940m (32,612 feet) above sea level in the storm near Tamworth, in New South Wales, paragliding officials said.

A 42-year-old Chinese man, He Zhongpin, was killed in the tornado-like storm.

They - along with 200 others - were preparing for a world paragliding championship in the town of Manilla, Australia, when the thunderstorm hit.

Return to Earth

Championship organiser Godfrey Wenness said it was remarkable that Ms Wisnierska had survived.

It's like winning Lotto 10 times in a row - the odds of her surviving were that long
Godfrey Wenness
Paragliding event organiser

"There's no oxygen," Mr Wenness said. "She could have suffered brain damage but she came to again at a height of 6,900m with ice all over her body and slowly descended herself."

Ms Wisnierska says she felt like an astronaut returning from the Moon as she landed.

"I could see the Earth coming - wow, like Apollo 13 - I can see the Earth," she said.

She was sure her chance of surviving was "almost zero".

"I was shaking all the time. The last thing I remember it was dark, I could hear lightning all around me," she told Australia's national broadcaster, ABC.

Australia map

Ms Wisnierska finally made contact with her ground team at 4,000m (13,123 feet).

She told them: "I can't do anything - it's raining and hailing and I'm still climbing - I'm lost."

But Ms Wisnierska finally managed to land - 60km (40 miles) from where she took off.

She spent only an hour in hospital after the ordeal, receiving treatment for severe frostbite and blistering on her face and ears.

She had been trying to skirt the storm front but became trapped when two storm cells merged, Mr Wenness said.

Officials used her GPS equipment and computer to track her path as the storm dragged her away.

Back in the saddle

Mr Wenness lauded Ms Wisnierska for her strength of mind - as well as her physical prowess.

"It's like winning Lotto 10 times in a row - the odds of her surviving were that long," he said.

Ms Wisnierska - the 2005 World Cup paragliding winner - says she still wants to compete in the championships next week.

Mr He, whose body was found 75km from where he took off, was believed to have died from a lack of oxygen and the extreme cold, event organisers said.

A post-mortem examination will be carried out on Monday, police said.

Sudden thunderstorms are common during summer in Australia, bringing destructive hail, winds and torrential rain.

Mount Everest is the world's tallest peak, at 8,850m (29,035 feet) above sea level.

Ewa Wisnierska describes her ordeal

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17 Dec 06 |  Southern Counties
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23 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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