The rest of the investigation into the fatal accident during the Canadian Paragliding National Championships in Pemberton last week will be handled by the B.C. Coroners Service, RCMP said Tuesday (Aug. 14).
Seattle resident John Clifford, 55, landed in the Lillooet River and drowned while competing in the event on Aug. 6, the second day of competition. Clifford’s body was recovered the following day, 200 metres from where he entered the water.
Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair said that the file became a coroner’s case once it was deemed there was no foul play involved in the incident.
LeClair added that Transport Canada (TC) was advised of the fatality and had asked for an initial update on the investigation, but it was unclear if TC would pursue an investigation of its own or if paragliding fell under its umbrella.
Pilot error and poor weather conditions, or a combination of both, have been the speculated cause of the accident among those close to the event.
On Aug. 5, the first day of the event, multiple pilots were forced to deploy their reserve chutes after experiencing difficulty in the air. Those pilots sustained no injuries and event co-organizer Jim Orava said weather was likely a factor in those incidents as well, which is rare for the area.
“Of the people on the first day who had trouble, they were locals who had never had trouble here before, which is really indicative of what that day was like,” he said. “Then the second day (Aug. 6), the sailplane guy said it was the most explosive day he’s ever experienced in all his time of flying here.”
Members of Clifford’s family, including widow, Kathy and brother, Todd, came up to Pemberton and met with participants and organizers during the later stages of the event, which officially ended on Saturday (Aug. 11).
“We had a beautiful evening with them,” said Orava.
Kathy has been keeping an online journal since her husband’s death. In an Aug. 9 post, she detailed her appreciation for the support she and five-year-old daughter Kaya have received from friends and family.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by all of the love and support,” she wrote. “This is without a dobut the hardest thing I could imagine.
“Somehow, some way, there is order in this chaos and though I may not understand it, I do have faith in it.”
Meanwhile, those within the paragliding community have been expressing condolences to the Clifford family. One popular, online paragliding forum was filled with posts discussing the incident and many writers shared fond memories of Clifford, a tandem paragliding instructor in Washington.
“John was a kind, soft-spoken person,” wrote one user. “His humour and willingness to strike up a conversation were great. The things he would say were priceless.
“John will be missed by many of us.”