Friends lament paraglider crash victim’s death
August 2, 2004
Truckee resident Britton Graves Chambers had been waiting two years to go paragliding again.A couple years before, he tried to go with Kings Beach resident Phill Hirst, his friend and fellow paraglider pilot. But the ride was cut short because Hirst’s tandem glider couldn’t catch any thermals.On Sunday, 38-year-old Chambers finally got his ride with Hirst in perfect paragliding conditions, but the ride ended tragically. The close friends crashed into the side of a steep, rocky slope, killing Chambers and landing Hirst in the hospital.”This is something Britt wanted to do for so long,” said his girlfriend, Christy Whiteberg. “They took off with huge smiles on their faces.”Chambers and Hirst, an experienced cross-country paragliding pilot with 16 years of experience, took off from the east bowl of Mt. Rose Ski Area and soared.It was a picture-perfect day for a cross-country paraglide, said Dawn Voet, Hirst’s wife. Some news reports indicated that the conditions were too dangerous to go paragliding, but Voet said “this was just a bad accident.”
The intention of cross-country paragliding is to go as far as possible by using pockets of rising air, or thermals, to gain altitude. A cross-country paraglide could go 30 minutes or it could take all day.Two hours later, Chambers and Hirst made it to Rainbow and couldn’t catch another thermal, so they decided to land, Voet said.They were flying away from the hill, at approximately 200 feet above the ground, when they entered turbulent air. Eighty percent of the glider collapsed, causing it to quickly rotate toward the hill, losing altitude fast, according to Voet.Because they were so close to the ground, Voet said, there was no chance of correction and they hit a hill off the Bordertown exit near Reno Stead Air Force Base.Voet and Whiteberg had been following the guys’ flight from the beginning at Mt. Rose. They had stopped at a corner store to grab some water and a map when they saw the emergency vehicles drive by.Hirst called his wife’s cell phone to let her know where they had crashed. He told her that he was injured and Chambers’ collar bone was broken.
When Voet and Whiteberg arrived at the scene, Chambers was sitting up and talking. Soon after, “he went down real fast,” Whiteberg said of her boyfriend’s condition. CareFlight nurses and medics worked to revive Chambers.”Then, he was gone,” Whiteberg said.Lots of friends, lots of adventureWhether he was working the avalanche control as a ski patroller at Alpine Meadows or fishing, Chambers liked adventure, say his friends.And, as evidenced by photos of Chambers’ life, he did it all with his bearded smile.
“He was the happiest guy with the biggest heart of gold,” Whiteberg said.Chambers had worked as a ski patroller at Alpine Meadows for 10 years and at Homewood a few years before that. He was training his dog, Bella, to be a search and rescue dog.He liked to fish, listen to music and play guitar; he also loved his innumerable friends, Whiteberg said.”He was much-loved by anyone he touched,” she said. “He would’ve done anything for anyone.”There will be a celebration of Britton Graves Chambers’ life at Alpine Meadows at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 8. Bring photos or memorabilia of Chambers. In lieu of flowers, his family and friends would like donations to the Britt Chamber Memorial Fund. Drop off donations with Kate at the Squaw Valley Stables by Friday, Aug. 6.