Himalayan Odyssey pilots arrested

Eric Reed's Spot page shows him in Sikkim on 16 March

Eric Reed's Spot page shows him in Sikkim on 16 March

US paraglider pilots Brad Sander and Eric Reed have been arrested in Sikkim, India, after flying in from Nepal without permits, according to local news reports.

According to a The Telegraph, Caluctta, the duo, who are trying to complete their epic mission of a complete traverse of the entire Himalaya, were arrested on 16 March.

Brad, known for his high altitude flying in the Karakoram, and Eric, a former US champion, spent seven weeks last year flying from Bir in India to east of Pokhara in Nepal as part of the Himalayan Odyssey expedition.

This spring season they wanted to complete the traverse. However, they were keeping things more low key for this trip, and only three pilots – Brad, Eric and Antoine Laurens – are involved. The last entry on their blog is weeks old.

Brad told Cross Country in mid February that he was planning to try to complete the traverse. “I am gearing up as the spring approaches,” he said. “It’s taken me this long to recover from last year’s trip.”

A few days before the pair set out, Brad again emailed Cross Country. “I don’t mean to talk too much about plans,” he said, “but Eric’s in Nepal and we’re going to try and finish this.”

The Telegraph Calcutta reported on Thursday 17 March that the pair had “sailed across the border into Sikkim from Nepal without permits and took in the picturesque sights for two days before getting themselves entangled in red tape.”

The report said:

Eric Reed, 45, and Brad Sander, 35, were arrested yesterday in Sikkim for travelling to the strategic border state without the inner-line permits mandatory for foreigners. The two had valid passports and visas for entering India. Preliminary reports suggest they flew in without the permits because of a misunderstanding.

The foreigners were found roaming in a bazaar in Uttarey, a town in West district in Sikkim. They were picked up by the police after they failed to produce the permits.

Deputy inspector-general of police N. Sridhar Rao said the two Americans had used paragliders to sail into Sikkim and had landed on the flat terrain of Dhaap, near Uttarey and close to the India-Nepal border, on March 14.

It continued:

Sikkim shares a 101km border with Nepal. The border areas are inaccessible because of high altitudes and difficult terrain. The Sashastra Seema Bal guards the border in Uttarey. Apart from Nepal, Sikkim shares borders with China (215km) in the north and the east and Bhutan (32km) in the east.

The DIG said foreigners must take the permits from check-posts at Rangpo and Melli, the two main points of entry into Sikkim. “Neither Reed nor Sander had the permits and they were charged with entering Sikkim illegally.”

It also said the pair will be charged and fined, between $200 and $1,000:

They have been charged under the Foreigners Act for not carrying documents necessary to enter restricted areas in the country. Police officers said that if convicted, they could be jailed between two and eight years and/or fined Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000.

The Calcutta Telegraph also said that the vice president of the local paragliding association in Sikkim, Raju Rai, has been detained.

The last update from Brad Sander’s Spot device was on 16 March at 5.41am. Eric Reed’s Spot last updated on the same day at 8.11am. It is not known if the pair’s Spots have been confiscated or simply turned off.

Brad and Eric are experienced India hands as well as expert pilots, so undoubtedly the pair will be taking the red-tape setback in their stride.

Cross Country has emailed the pair’s support team as well as the pilots themselves to find out the situation on the ground and offer support if needed. If any pilot has confirmed or new information, please use the comments section below, or email editor@xcmag.com.

Update: Jessica Love, the pair’s supporter on the ground, has confirmed that the pair were arrested but are not currently in jail. Both pilots are fine. She will tell us more when she has it.

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4 Responses to “Himalayan Odyssey pilots arrested”

  1. March 18, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    It is very sad to here about such good pilots having to face so much problems due to some one eles mistake. May both of you take this as an experence for the futher and dont keep anything in your mind or heart about india, because india has a lot to offer you both. Next time work with profesnals.

  2. jagat
    March 19, 2011 at 5:38 am #

    They are not spy or have ill intention and sikkim have no provision of Ariel guards, I hope they should be freed with no fine. wish them happy flying!

  3. Rajendra P Gurung
    March 19, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Editoral in “Sikkim Now” 19th March local newspaper Gangtok
    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    So Much for Hospitality

    An interesting case has come up in West Sikkim where two US nationals have been taken into custody for having paraglided into Sikkim from Nepal without the necessary paperwork. The case remains under investigation, but what has come out thus far suggests that the professional paragliders were here on the invitation of event-organisers based in Sikkim. In these days of Wiki-leaks which have unveiled Central Ministers as tattlers to American foreign service officials, it is obvious that the duo currently in a remote West Sikkim police lock-up, did not come here on an espionage mission. The rules and laws which control visits to this tourist-destination-state are such that what is at worst a lapse in paperwork, is, for all practical reasons in the present case, a criminal offence. It is expected of the agencies tasked with responsibilities of national security [which can be the only reason why travel to Sikkim is restricted] to take up the case based on the evidence at hand and the circumstantial culpability of the two “illegal intruders”. What is, however, confounding is the combativeness with which the Tourism Department is tearing into this transgression.
    Officials at the Department appear convinced that the two paragliders are not spies, and if they are so convinced, then they should be mediating on behalf of the arrested duo with the agencies following the letter of the law in prosecuting them. What the Department appears to be intent on doing, however, is to make an example out of this case by going extra strict. Definitely take action against those in Sikkim who convinced the duo to give established regulations governing travel into Sikkim a go by, but as far as the two foreign nationals are concerned, liaison with the cops to present the case as one of oversight, compromised by people here, and not as a criminally inclined act of illegal intrusion by the guests. The Department could even have also stayed away from the issue all together, taking action against the ‘handlers’ here on its own, but with its joining issue on such a strong note, it has presented a very unpleasant face. Given that the department has remained unable to make holidaying in Sikkim less complicated [even for the “high-paying dollar tourists”], it should at least not present itself as an agency fixated on strengthening red tape. There are enough organisations unrolling miles of it [red tape] already and the hospitality industry here could have done without the Department too joining that group. The two foreigners arrested on charges framed under the Foreigners Registration Act should be seen as victims of a tasteless fraud played on them by those who encouraged them to take a direct paraglide from Eastern Nepal into Western Sikkim, and the Department of Tourism should have lobbied for some laxity. That would also have been a wiser route to take because once the American embassy gets into the act and starts making enquiries, the case will be settled, that much is definite. When that humbling moment comes, tourism in Sikkim could have earned a face saver if it had fielded at least someone who batted for the misdirected tourists.

  4. Bruce
    April 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Antoine was recently in England visiting paragliding friends – on the day Brad & Eric were arrested he was flying at Milk Hill in Somerset.
    When the team were approaching the India Nepal border last year Antoine was meticulous in ensuring that all legal formalities were completed & there was no question of anyone in the exhibition acting unlawfully.
    To say that Antoine or the Himalayan Oddessy expedition is involved in the situation that has grown around Brad & Eric is unfair to him (& the other pilots who flew last year) as he is a regular visitor to India & having his name associated with this tamasha will not make it easy for him to organise future expeditions.

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