Hang-glider pilot jailed five months for role in fatal accident

A British Columbia hang-glider pilot who failed to connect a 28-year-old woman to the aircraft during a tandem flight and caused her to fall 300 metres to her death has been sentenced to five months in jail.

CHILLIWACK, B.C. — A British Columbia hang-glider pilot who failed to connect a 28-year-old woman to the aircraft during a tandem flight and caused her to fall 300 metres to her death has been sentenced to five months in jail.

William Jon Orders, 51, had pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing the death of Lenami Godinez-Avila, who plummeted from the hang-glider shortly after taking off for a flight across B.C.’s Fraser Valley on April 28, 2012.

Court heard Orders didn’t hook Godinez-Avila to the glider and also failed to conduct a required safety check before launching. After he landed, he swallowed a memory card containing video of the incident.

The sentence includes three years of probation, during which Orders will be prohibited from hang-gliding and must educate others about what happened.

Godinez-Avila was from Mexico. She was working for B.C.’s Environment Ministry while studying at the University of British Columbia.

Her father, Miguel Godinez, who was in court to watch the proceedings, said the sentence didn’t go far enough.

“I think it was a very light sentence,” he told reporters outside the courthouse in Chilliwack, east of Vancouver. “I don’t think any father in the world — any parent — would stand for this situation.”

Orders was also charged with obstruction of justice for swallowing the memory card, but the charge was stayed by the Crown.

During a court hearing last Friday, when Orders pleaded guilty, Crown lawyer Carolyn Kramer described the contents of the video, which was not shown.

Kramer said the video starts with Orders and Godinez-Avila taking off from the mountainside on a day that was meant to be a celebration of Godinez-Avila and her boyfriend’s anniversary.

Shortly after, it becomes obvious that Godinez-Avila’s harness was not hooked onto the glider, Kramer said. The footage shows her clinging desperately onto Orders and the hang-glider while Orders attempts to clip her in, but she slips off and falls.

On Tuesday, Kramer said the jail sentence doesn’t change the wide shadow the case has cast over two families.

“The family, they lost somebody they clearly loved. Those gut-wrenching victim impact statements were amazing and they are just so sad,” Kramer said outside court.

“The spillover to Mr. Orders and his family, and then the community at large — it’s just very tragic.”

Orders, who has 18 years’ hang-gliding experience, had taken a tandem re-certification course just weeks before the accident.

Court heard Orders has since given up hang-gliding and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Orders’ lawyer, Jeff Campbell, said his client is remorseful.

“As you know, he apologized immediately in public and he has apologized again in court and through his guilty plea,” Campbell said after the sentence was handed out.

“I expect that he is relieved that the whole process, at least in court, is over.”

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