Chris Gursky stood on a hilltop last month in Switzerland, with one hand holding on to his pilot and the other holding on to a hang glider, gearing up for an adventure.
The pilot asked Gursky whether he was ready and then gave the command.
“Three, two, one, go!” the pilot shouted. “Run, run, run, run, run, run!”
Video showed the two men run, then soar into the air. But it was at that instant that Gursky realized something was wrong — his harness had not been attached to the aircraft. Soon, they were about 4,000 feet in the air and Gursky was hanging free, he later told CBS News.
“At one point I looked down and I saw the scenery down there, it was all the treetops changing colors and the little farm houses and I actually thought to myself, ‘That is beautiful. I am going to fall to my death there,’” Gursky, of North Port, Fla., told the station. “I probably had five seconds left in me because my hand was starting to slip off that bar.”
But, Gursky told the station, he tried not to dwell on the grim situation. “I just thought, ‘I’m just going to hang on as hard as I can for as long as I can,’” he added.
He could not immediately be reached for comment by The Washington Post.
The GoPro video, which was posted on YouTube earlier this week, showed Gursky and his pilot flying over lush, rolling hills, brightly colored trees and farmhouses that looked like Monopoly game pieces from up high. For a brief moment near the beginning of the terrifying journey, it appeared that Gursky let go of the hang glider and tried to grab onto the pilot with both hands but then quickly returned one of his hands to the aircraft.
Twenty-four seconds in, Gursky wrote in a caption accompanying the video that the pilot was “trying to maneuver to a quick landing” but was “having trouble controlling the glider.”
The aircraft then drifted downhill and, suddenly, the men were flying even farther from the ground.
“Thinking . . . nice view . . . I’m gonna die!” Gursky wrote. “Ok, maybe not the nice view part.”
More than a minute into the frightening flight, Gursky appeared to let go of the pilot, holding on — by one hand — to a metal bar on the hang glider before retaining his grip on the pilot. The pilot appeared to be holding on to Gursky’s harness, as well.
“I think my left hand is making an imprint in the metal bar,” he wrote at the 1-minute 42-second mark.
As the pilot neared an open space, he let go of Gursky’s harness so that he could try to land the aircraft. Gursky doubled-down, clutching the pilot’s pant leg.
“Hanging well below the landing gear . . . better than losing my grip though,” Gursky wrote in the video.
"Can’t hold on much longer,” he added.
Then: “Almost there!”
Then: “Coming in hot."
Gursky was in the air for a grueling 2 minutes 14 seconds — ripping a tendon in his biceps as he held on for his life, he said.
In slow motion, the video shows Gursky release the hang glider and then the pilot, falling into the grass as it zipped past them. He told CBS News that they were traveling an estimated 45 mph.
The pilot skidded to a stop ahead of him.
Gursky said that when he hit the ground, he broke his right wrist and that he later had to have surgery.
But, he wrote, “it beats the alternative.”
After the ordeal, Gursky wrote that though his pilot “made a critical error” by failing to attach Gursky’s harness to the hang glider, “he did all he could to get me down to the ground as quickly as possible, while grabbing on to my harness and flying with one hand.”
A spokesman with Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation said it has seen the video and is “clearing the facts and analyzing the incident.” The agency said that, depending on the findings, it may impose a penalty or revoke the pilot’s license. The agency said it is also in contact with the Swiss attorney general’s office.
Gursky said he and his wife were visiting Switzerland last month when they decided to go hang gliding for the first time. The mishap occurred on the first day of their vacation, he wrote in the caption over the video.
“Base jumping tomorrow?” he wrote.