TWO paragliding friends who crashed into each other hundreds of feet above rocky ground were newly qualified as solo flyers, one of Scotland’s top experts has revealed.
The accident was witnessed by Zabdi Keen, who is chief instructor of a paragliding school on the island of Arran.
She claimed fatigue could have contributed to the terrifying mid-air collision.
One of the pilots landed safely, but the other is still in hospital with back injuries after hurtling into a cliffside on Arran.
He was saved by mountain rescuers, coastguards, Royal Navy helicopter crews and paramedics during a high-risk five-hour mission.
Ms Keen had been running a tuition session close to where the accident happened at the weekend.
It is thought that the pair had been on Arran for a day trip.
Ms Keen said: “The weather was perfect for paragliding and a number of pilots had been enjoying the conditions, soaring above the hills of Catacol village.
“We were teaching at the same site and the visiting pilots had come over to Arran to enjoy flying the mountains.
“The accident happened towards the end of the day.
“Both men were newly qualified to ‘club pilot’ rating this season with the British Hang-gliding and Paragliding Association.
“They had learned to fly with my organisation, Flying Fever, on Arran over the last two years - they had about 10 hours airtime following qualification.
“The pilots both have low experience and when you are flying you have to maintain constant vigilance to avoid other pilots. You always have to look before you turn and scan the skies to be aware of the changing position of other pilots.
“Tiredness may have contributed to the accident - they didn’t see each other until too late and the collision happened.”
Ms Keen, who had paraglided all over the world and is known as a global authority, added that the rescue operation had to take into account the safety of the helicopter.
She explained: “The emergency services did a magnificent job in reaching the inured pilot.
“He was in a difficult position, suspended above a cliff on steep and unstable ground.
“He was held in place by the actual paraglider, so the helicopter could not just lower a winch-man to the site, as the downdraft from the rotors could have re-inflated the canopy.
“That could have caused further injuries to the pilot and would also have been a risk to the helicopter itself.”