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Paraglider crashes on Smelter Mountain

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Emergency crews preparing for medical evacuation training Wednesday on Smelter Mountain got the real thing instead.

They were able to bring colleague Rudy Unrau to safety. Unrau, who began paragliding about a month ago, crashed about midway on the mountain above Durango Dog Park.

A companion sailing with him landed safely farther to the southeast and notified authorities.

Unrau was in fair condition Wednesday afternoon at Mercy Regional Medical Center. Pam Unrau, his mother, said a surgeon told her Unrau had a broken right arm and crushed right foot, a broken left ankle and broken vertebrae.

“The surgeon said he’s lucky to be alive,” Pam Unrau said. “But he’ll be all right.”

Pam Unrau said her husband, Bill, talked briefly with their son, who said a sudden, strong shift of wind occurred just before he fell.

Rudy Unrau graduated in 2012 from Fort Lewis College with a major in sociology and a minor in history, his mother said.

He worked two summers as a seasonal firefighter in Dolores before being promoted to Durango Helitack, Pam Unrau said.

When Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, paged at 7:43 a.m., arrived, two dozen members of the San Juan Hot Shots and Durango Helitack, which Unrau joined two years ago, already were preparing to scale the mountain.

La Plata County Search and Rescue members also were present.

Unrau, wheeled down the mountain on a gurney, was transported to Mercy Regional Medical Center from the Dog Park at 10:05 a.m.

DFRA Fire Marshal Karola Hanks didn’t know the name of Unrau’s companion.

Unrau, in an orange-and-white kite, crashed in a small bowl at the head of two draws about mid-mountain.

About 20 members with Durango Helitack and San Juan Hot Shots crews used chain saws and hand tools to make their way up the mountain to reach him.

Paragliding is a recreational activity in which the pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing connected to suspension lines, using the air to float above ground.

Hanks cited two coincidences.

The two firefighting crews were at the scene preparing for a training exercise, and Leo Lloyd, who leads DF&RA emergency medical training, had just trained rescuers in rope techniques, which were used Wednesday in the initial phase to bring Unrau to safety.


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