Singaporean paraglider killed in India aborted flight 2 days earlier

Singaporean paraglider killed in India aborted flight 2 days earlier
Rescue personnel touching down with Mr Ng's body on Tuesday.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sharon Ng

Often described as the Mecca of paragliding, Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh, India, is popular with enthusiasts of the sport.

But the area is also a kill zone, with dozens of accidents recorded there in recent years.

In 2016, three paragliders were killed in the space of 22 days, raising safety concerns.

On Tuesday, Singaporean Ng Kok Choong became the area's latest victim, just two days after he aborted his flight and warned other paragliders of the treacherous weather conditions.

Mr Ng, 53, a former commando and retired property agent, was in Bir Billing to take part in the Paragliding World Cup, due to start on Saturday.

On Monday, he took off at about 11am but failed to return after wind speed picked up suddenly in the snow-capped mountains of Dhauladhar.​

Mr Ng's body was spotted on Tuesday by rescuers in a helicopter who were also searching for a paraglider from Spain who had been missing since Sunday.

A rescuer had to winch down from the helicopter to get to Mr Ng's body.

A post-mortem yesterday showed Mr Ng died after suffering a serious head injury.

At least three paragliders have also had accidents in the area in recent weeks.

Mr Ng was in the news last month after rescuing victims of a 7.4-magnitude earthquake on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. (See report below.)

Mr Christopher Hsieh, secretary for the Air Sports Federation of Singapore (AFS), said they were in touch with the Indian authorities and Mr Ng's family after he went missing.

"Kok Choong joined our club two years ago and he learnt to paraglide with an instructor in Indonesia," Mr Hsieh said.

"A day before the accident, he shared that conditions were very rough and many pilots had landed on trees. He made a good decision to abort his flight early and reported back safe."

He described Mr Ng as someone who always moved forward, seeking knowledge while being non-judgemental.

"That's what I liked about him and I'm fairly certain others would agree with me," he said.

Mr Hsieh added that the winds in the area are normally safe, but there had been recent reports of "sudden unexpected weather changes".

NOT A BEGINNER

"Is that because of climate change? We don't know," he said. "Bir Billing is an advanced site and not for beginner pilots.

"Mr Ng was not a beginner."

Mr Ng's wife, Sharon, 52, and their older son, Marcus, 28, arrived in India yesterday to arrange to bring his body home. The Ngs have another son, 26, and a daughter, 22.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Singapore High Commission in New Delhi is in touch with the Indian authorities, and is rendering consular assistance to the family.

Mrs Ng, a teacher, said the family is still trying to come to terms with the tragedy.

She told The Straits Times that her husband's friends had been optimistic that he, a skilful paraglider, would still be found alive.

"He loved the sky and had dreamt of being a pilot before," she added. "Like an eagle soaring in the sky.

"He told me the Earth is so beautiful from above."

Mr Hsieh advises paragliders who intend to go to Bir Billing to have sufficient training beforehand.

"The dangers are when weather changes too rapidly. Of course, there are other factors but I think this is a major factor," he said.

"There is a saying in aviation: Taking off is optional, landing is compulsory. Whenever something seems sub-optimal, it is our responsibility to cancel flying plans."

PARAGLIDERS RESCUED MOTHER AND DAUGHTER IN QUAKE

 

When a powerful earthquake rocked Sulawesi last month, Mr Ng Kok Choong, who had just left his hotel in Palu, was knocked to the ground.

After picking himself up, he and Belgian paraglider Francois de Neuville ran back into the hotel, where they found a woman and her young daughter trapped in the rubble.

The duo, who were in Palu for a paragliding competition, tried to free the victims. Further tremors forced them to run out again.

But with the victims' cries echoing in their ears, they knew they could not abandon the mother and child.

"So we ran back in again. It was chaos," Mr Ng would later tell The Straits Times of his experience during the quake and subsequent tsunami, which killed 1,200 people on the Indonesian island.

Mr Ng, whose body was found on Tuesday after a paragliding accident in India, said that as huge waves approached the shore, they were able to free the girl.

Mr de Neuville carried her out to higher ground.

Mr Ng, who tried in vain to lift the concrete block trapping the mother, remained with her for several hours until rescuers arrived to free her and rush her to the hospital.

Mr de Neuville told ST yesterday that Mr Ng's courage had left a deep impression on him.

"KC was a great man and inspired me," the 29-year-old said, referring to Mr Ng by his nickname.

"I was about to join him in India to fly together, and I was really looking forward to it because we shared this bond after surviving the disaster.

"It breaks my heart to know that he is gone. I will deeply miss him."

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

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