Getting caught out in a thunderstorm without shelter from the bad weather, such as heavy winds, thunder, lightning, rain, sleet, hail, and even tornadoes, is something most people would rather avoid. Actually getting caught up inside a meteorological monster without shelter from the elements (such as inside an aircraft cabin) is incomprehensible. One woman did experience the power and fury of a violent thunderstorm from inside the thundercloud, and lived to tell about it.
Ewa Wiśnierska (born December 23, 1971) is a German citizen of Polish descent. These days, she’s a paraglider instructor, but in bygone years she had won the Paragliding World Cup a number of times, and had been a member of the German national paragliding team. On February 14, 2007, thirty-five-year-old Wiśnierska was in New South Wales, Australia, for the paragliding world championship along with about 200 other competitors. The weather had been marginal, with a thunderstorm in the area, but the contestants wanted to get some pactice in before the competition began. The general consensus among the paragliders was that the storm could be avoided.
Unfortunately for Ewa Wiśnierska and He Zhongpin, 42, a Chinese competitor, getting sucked into the storm by powerful updrafts was unavoidable. He was killed by lightning within the thunder cloud. By some miracle Ewa escaped death but not without a beating. The wind carried her upwards to a high altitude of 9,946 metres (32,631 ft), as determined by the GPS-augmented instrumentation that she carried. Likely because of the very thin atmosphere above the Armstrong Limit, Ewa passed out during much of the ordeal which probably helped save her life by slowing down her heart rate and other metabolic functions. She was pummeled by hail, covered in a thin coating of ice, and rocked by intense thunder and lightning. After 3.5 hours, the storm kicked her out and she reunited with the Earth approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of where she started the day. Frostbite and bruises made up the bulk of her injuries.
Depending on how much time you have on your hands, here are a short, medium, and long video detailing Ewa’s ordeal.
“Storm carried the paraglider above clouds, where only planes fly, but something unexpected happened.” (3:31):
“Paragliding Miracle (Full length)” (53:16):
Question of the Night: Of all the different aspects of bad weather that a thunderstorm can bring, what’s the worst? (e.g., heavy winds, thunder, lightning, rain, sleet, hail, tornado)