Paralysed after paragliding crash, now cycling for charity

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A Queenstown paragliding accident victim tricycling the length of New Zealand tackles a special stretch of road next week. 

Pedalling a horizontal trike, former Queenstown action man Heikki Kaariainen, 52, will pass the Arrow Junction paddock he crashed into when a solo paragliding training flight went horribly wrong almost 14 years ago. 

Flying from the Crown Terrace, Kaariainen broke his back in a forced landing and was paralysed from the waist down. 

“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” he says. 

While admitting some mistakes, he largely blamed his instructor for not supervising his flight. 

Kaariainen says he won a payout in a confidential settlement “but it was bugger-all for the work I did for the court case”. 

Doctors at Christchurch’s Burwood Spinal Unit told him he’d never be able to walk again. 

Kaariainen says he eventually got muscle movement in his legs and after three years returned his wheelchair to ACC – he now uses walking sticks. 

“I wouldn’t call it a miracle because I’ve done so much hard work to get myself standing.” 

A former electronics technician – and keen adventurer when in Queenstown – he’s mainly lived in a campervan in Nelson and Tauranga since the accident. 

Last year he wrote a NZ campervan/motorhome guide under the pseudonym Henry Van Campa, which he’s also using for his journey from Bluff to Cape Reinga – Kaariainen is “too much of a mouthful for English-speaking people”. 

He’s undertaking the trip, which began in Bluff last month – on an ACC-funded 42-gear $7500 modified trike – as a means of strengthening his legs. 

His mission involves triking about 25km a day, then hitchhiking back to collect his campervan. 

Kaariainen estimates he’ll take a year to reach the top of the North Island but will go at his own pace. 

Along the way Kaariainen is fundraising for the Spinal Injury Trust – donations can be made at www.fundraiseonline.co.nz/HenryVanCampa/ 

Kaariainen fears there’s been little improvement in commercial paragliding safety since his accident in 1997. 

“There are always these cowboy operators who do not take enough care.” 

He believes the Civil Aviation Authority should take a much harder line on safety rather than leave it to the self-governing NZ Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.