Brad Sander and Eric Reed, the two adventure paraglider pilots arrested in India, will face a local court on Saturday 19 March.
Speaking by phone from Uttarey, the town in Sikim where they were arrested, Brad told Cross Country it was a “sensitive time” but he was hopeful the situation could be resolved soon.
“Hopefully we will be seen as the good-natured adventure sportsmen that we are and not as anything else.”
Brad and Eric are on an adventure-flying trip of a lifetime, flying the length of the Himalaya on paragliders as part of the Himalayan Odyssey expedition – something that has never been done before.
In a world first, they hope to complete the traverse that they started last year, where they flew 1,200km from Bir in Himachel Pradesh, India to east of Kathmandu.
At the beginning of March this year they started in Pokhara, Nepal, and flew east. They arrived in Sikkim, a part of India where tourists need a special permit to visit, and were arrested when they were found not to have their paperwork in order.
“Essentially it’s been a misunderstanding,” Brad said.
Although Brad and Eric are not in jail, police in Uttaray, a town popular as a base for treks to the world’s third highest mountain Kanchengjunga, have confiscated the pair’s passports and paragliders until the matter is resolved. They have also assigned a police escort, who is with Brad and Eric at all times.
However, Brad said there was little to worry about. “The local police are looking after us really well, all the police officers are smiling and friendly, no one has guns. We’ve had really good treatment.”
He added: “They’re doing everything they can to make us feel comfortable.” That includes, he said, being fed home-cooked dinners. “It’s definitely not like being arrested in the US.”
Brad and Eric are two of the sport’s most ambitious and high-achieving stars. Brad shot to prominence three years ago when he completed a series of high altitude, big distance cross country flights in Pakistan. He learnt to fly in Bir, India, and has since gone on to work in raptor conservation in Pokhara, Nepal, caring for some of the region’s most endangered birds.
After a decade at the top of the competition game, including winning the US National Championship, Eric Reed discovered Himlayan paragliding in the late 2000s. He has since made several big vol-bivouac trips through the region – successfully flying for many miles through the mountains.
The plan to fly from Pokhara to the end of the Himalayan chain was going well until the red-tape glitch. “Our first three days out of Pokhara saw us fly 75km, 75km and 86km,” Brad said.
Sikkim he added was a “super nice” place. “My experience of Sikkim is of a very nice place, a mix of Nepal, Bhutan and India. It feels very relaxed, very non-stressed.
“Even in this situation a lot of people are smiling and telling us not to get too stressed. I’ve been really impressed with the local people and those looking after us.”
The region, he added, has lots of potential as a pilot’s destination. “It could be an alternative to Bir,” he said. “They have a paragliding site here, although it doesn’t see much use from international pilots. Our friend Raju Rai has been instrumental in trying to get paragliding off the ground here and is trying to do things the right way.”
Both the Paragliding Association of India and the local paragliding association in Sikkim are in close touch with Brad and Eric who are hopeful they will see their situation resolved positively on Saturday.
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