Paraglider rescued from tree

Shenandoah County firefighter/EMT Mike Gochenour, at left, 40, climbs a 100-foot tree off Woodstock Tower Road on Massanutten Mountain to rescue Thomas Boulier, at right, as his feet rest on a tree limb. His paraglider went down after he launched from the mountain top Monday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Fire and rescue workers safely lowered a paraglider stuck in a tree Monday afternoon near Woodstock.

Thomas Boulier, who lives in College Park, Maryland, and is a researcher at University of Maryland, was paragliding from Capital Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association’s launch site in the George Washington National Forest when he landed in a tree near Woodstock Tower Road.

Boulier said he was flying for a few minutes when he hit a patch of sinking air close to the mountain. He estimated he spent about two and a half hours in the tree.

“I did have a good view, I was actually quite comfortable,” he said after returning to the ground. “I knew I landed in a nice set of branches that could hold me… I didn’t go down, just like ‘bam.’ I wasn’t lucky to hit the patch of sinking air in the first place.”

Capt. Reid Wodicka with the Woodstock Fire Department said Boulier was stuck about 100 feet off the ground with no way to get down, but was stable and keeping voice contact with workers. He said firefighters set up the rigging equipment and ropes to help get Boulier down.

Shenandoah County firefighter/EMT Mike Gochenour, left, 40, looks down as Thomas Boulier makes his descent along a 100-foot tree after his paraglider went down Monday, landing in a tree top off Woodstock Tower Road. Rich Cooley/Daily

Mike Gochenour of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue climbed the tree to set up the lifeline and lowering system. With about 12 years of experience in tree service and rope rescue training through the department, he said this was his fourth tree rescue for the department and his second tree rescue on that specific mountain.

“He was fine, he was (in) good spirits… just glad to see somebody,” Gochenour said of Boulier during the rescue.

After Boulier was clear from under the tree, Gochenour worked to free the paraglider wing from the tree as well, cutting off a few branches in the process. He said the size of the tree and height made the rescue challenging.

Shenandoah County Sheriff’s deputies also responded to the area, and Woodstock Tower Road was closed to drivers during the rescue. Boulier was safely lowered to the ground by about 5:30 p.m., about two hours after crews arrived at the location.

George Huffman, a paraglider of four years and a club member of the association, was present at the launch site at the time and was the one to call in to Shenandoah Department of Fire and Rescue. Having ended up in a tree once himself and knowing other paragliders that have done the same, he said Boulier “did everything exactly right” in the situation.

Thomas Boulier, a researcher at the University of Maryland, stands on a ladder after safely scaling down a 100-foot tree. His paraglider went down after launching from the mountain top Monday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Most of the air hitting the ridge today is lifting – he hit some that was sinking and he was unable to turn out away from the ridge quickly enough to avoid sinking into the tree,” he said.

When compared to other potential paragliding landings, Huffman said tree landings are much less dangerous.

“It’s something that can happen, and he did the safest thing that he could.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or