In a bizarre twist to a tragic tale, the hang-glider pilot whose young passenger fell to her death over B.C.’s Fraser Valley has been ordered to remain in custody while a memory card he’s alleged to have swallowed passes through his body.
Police say a series of X-rays have confirmed the memory card is still inside William Orders, who has been charged with obstructing justice. Court documents allege the 50-year-old swallowed the card that stored digital video of the flight, which could be crucial evidence in the death of Lenami Godinez-Avila.
The 27-year-old plunged to her death on Saturday while on a tandem flight with Mr. Orders in Agassiz, about 125 kilometres east of Vancouver. Somehow Ms. Godinez-Avila came loose of her harness and fell more than 300 metres. Police said her boyfriend, who bought the flight as an anniversary gift, was waiting his turn for a ride when he watched her fall.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond says hang-gliding is now self-regulated, but she may bring in regulations after an investigation by the provincial coroner’s office.
There are now three probes into the fall – by the RCMP, the B.C. Coroners Service and the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada. The last group announced its probe Wednesday, deploying a veteran pilot to investigate what the association says is the sport’s first fatality of this kind in its 40-year Canadian history.
Pending the outcome of the investigation by Martin Henry, a pilot with 30 years of experience, the association has pulled Mr. Orders’s tandem instructor certification.
“We need err always on the side of caution until we have the conclusion of the investigation that’s about to start,” association executive director Margit Nance said.
“All of our members are in deep shock, to say the least, over this poor young woman losing her life,” she said. “This thing, even though it is anomalous, must never, ever happen again.”
Ms. Nance said she knew Mr. Orders, noting the community of enthusiasts is relatively small – about 900 members across Canada, of which 330 are in British Columbia. “He had gone through all of the ratings and had been flying for 16 years, and was a totally, fully certified tandem pilot,” she said.
Mr. Orders’s business website, Vancouver Hang Gliding, boasts that photos and video are available when people purchase a tandem hang-gliding trip. Video on the website shows a clear shot from the glider wing of a pilot and client taking off in tandem and flying over the scenic Fraser Valley.
His tandem hang-gliding experiences cost $210 on weekends.
“Photos and video are available using a specially mounted camera pole that captures you, your pilot and the amazing scenery around you,” the website says.
When police announced the charge on Monday, they said Mr. Orders was accused of withholding “key evidence.”
Police have said they seized video taken by the boyfriend on the ground and the hang-glider is also evidence and has been secured for the investigation.
Meanwhile, a portrait emerged Wednesday of the young Mexican woman central to the tragedy, a compassionate risk-taker who had embraced life in Canada since moving here in 2003 from Monterrey.
Andy Hira, an associate professor of Latin American studies at Simon Fraser University, said Ms. Godinez-Avila was a great student – her 2005 paper on risks to Mexico’s textile industry due to trade liberalization remains posted on the department website as an example of outstanding work.
Mr. Hira said she spun a temporary job with the 2010 Olympics into permanent work. When she died, she was section head in administrative support for the B.C. Environment Ministry, saluted in the legislature by the Environment Minister as a “bright light” after only five months’ service.
She also volunteered for the Vancouver food bank. “She volunteered in her off hours working to deal with composting – an issue that’s not all that attractive but very necessary,” Spencer Chandra Herbert, an NDP member, told the House.
Mr. Hira, who last saw Ms. Godinez-Avila at a dinner party he hosted a few weeks ago, said she relished continued self-improvement. “She didn’t take things for granted. She realized she had to continue working hard,” he said.
She was a cyclist and ultimate Frisbee enthusiast. She was planning to try skiing for the first time soon.
“She would spend extra moments during the work week scheming about the adventures that she and her boyfriend would be able to have on the weekend,” recalled Stuart Chase, another friend. “Whether that was a simple bike trip or going out to the bird sanctuary,” she was always interested in going out there to try and do new things.”
Mr. Chase said her circle of friends has been in despair. Like others, he noticed initial reports about the hang-gliding accident, but never connected it to Ms. Godinez-Avila. “When it all happened, she was doing something new and adventurous that she was excited to try,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press