Deceased paraglider identified as Front Range resident, former Naval Special Warfare Operator
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the military title of Zacharia Bolster.
The man who hit a tree and died while attempting to speed-fly — an advanced form of paragliding that involves quicker descents — from Peak 6 toward Copper Mountain on Aug. 27 has been identified as a Front Range resident.
Summit County Coroner Regan Wood identified the man as Zacharia Bolster, 26, of Arvada. His official cause of death has yet to be determined and is pending an autopsy. The coroner’s office said Bolster was a former Naval Special Warfare Operator.
His body was located in the “Sky Chutes,” and his speed wing was found tangled in a broken-off tree canopy.
At 9:38 a.m. on Aug. 27, members of Summit County Rescue Group were paged for a missing paraglider. Bolster’s flying partner had called 911 after attempting to call Bolster’s cell phone several times, the Summit County Rescue Group reported in its news release.
The reporting party said he had launched first with his slower paragliding wing and landed in the Far East parking lot at Copper Mountain Resort. Upon landing, he expected to see Bolster because of Bolster’s quicker speedwing, but Bolster never landed.
When rescue crews arrived, the weather was pretty nice, Summit County Rescue Group Mission Coordinator Charles Pitman said. There were a few high clouds and some light showers during the extraction, he said, but nothing impacted the rescue efforts.
Searchers with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office initially attempted to locate Bolster with a drone, but their attempts were unsuccessful, Pitman said. A helicopter was then called, but according to Pitman, it had a 45 minute delay due to another call for service.
Rescuers searched in with two crews — one climbing Peak 6 in a utility terrain vehicle from the Breckenridge side of the Tenmile Range and the other dropped onto the ridge by the Flight for Life helicopter.
Meanwhile, the uninjured flier attempted to scramble up the “K-Chute” they’d intended to fly through, Pitman said. The K-Chute is the middle of three chutes, called the “Sky Chutes” along the western face of the Tenmile Range. Each chute looks like it’s corresponding letter: S, K, and Y, Pitman said.
Bolster didn’t make it far into the chute and was located by the helicopter crew. Rescuers from the Flight for Life helicopter landed a quarter-mile above him, trekked down and confirmed he was dead.
Once Bolster was located, the uninjured flier helped rescuers extract Bolster down through the chute. While Bolster was found near the top of the chute, the route up was too steep and dangerous for rescuers, Pitman said, and the uninjured flier was familiar with the path out. Crews finally extracted Bolster to the Far East parking lot at 6:45 p.m.
In total, 12 rescuers with Summit County Rescue Group responded, Pitman said.
“These fliers more and more are going up to Peak 6,” Pitman said.
In general, Summit County Rescue Group Spokesperson Anna DeBattiste said paragliders, speedfliers and other fliers are not common. DeBattiste said they usually get a call every couple years, although this is the second flier-related call this summer. Rescuers helped a paraglider with an injured ankle off the Tenmile Range in late July.
DeBattiste said she didn’t want to speculate, but she added that she felt like there could be a trend towards more flying accidents.
The altitude a flier takes off at can impact their flight, DeBattiste said. That can play a significant role when fliers travel from the lower Front Range to Summit County, she said.
Speed-flying combines elements of paragliding and parachuting, with the main differences between speed-flying and paragliding being the speed of the flier and their proximity to the ground. Speedwings descend quicker and fliers will often stay close to the ground. In the winter, speed-fliers can become speed-riders by wearing skis during the descent.
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