Gene Maakestad 8/24/76 Hang Glider, Fall

Tragedy Follows Flight
By Kathy Field, ADN 8/24/76

An afternoon pleasure night turned into tragedy for Gene Maakestad of Anchorage who was killed Sunday in a hang-gliding crash in the Switchback area of the Eagle River Valley.

Maakestad's hang glider went into a nose dive when he circled above his friend, Jeff Bennett, who had crashed in unusual wind conditions.

Bennett suffered a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding in the crash and was listed in satisfactory condition at Providence Hospital Monday.

Maakestad, 21, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by Army personnel who arrived in a helicopter.

According to Bennett, the two had been in flight for about a halt hour when Bennett flew over a ridge that divided two mountain bowls.

The wind created a rotor effect around the ridge which caught Bennett's kite and threw him against a cliff.  Bennett said he was near the ridge when he had to make a crash landing.

Maakestad was flying further from the side of the mountain when he was caught in the same wind as he turned his kite to fly over Bennett.  He tell several hundred feet to his death.

"After I crashed, my insides hurt really bad, so it took awhile to find Gene.  I couldn't really move without having to stop and lay down periodically," Bennett said.

About 20 minutes elapsed before Bennett reached the site of his friend's crash.  Maakestad was unconscious when Bennett found him.

Realizing Maakestad was badly injured, Bennett walked down the valley until he reached a residence where he called for help.

Both Bennett and Maakestad were experienced hang gliders, having learned the sport a year and a halt ago through a local hang-gliding outlet.

Bennett was not new to the area through which he and Maakestad chose to fly on Sunday afternoon.  He had flown there several times before.

Bennett's description indicated that it would have been difficult for any experienced hang glider to foresee the dangerous conditions the two encountered.

But he admits he should have paid more heed to the thermal activity present that afternoon.  "Thermal activity creates a lot of turbulence; there was a 'sink' of cool air outside the hot air.  Gene apparently grabbed one of the 'sinks.'"

"Maybe I should have known not to have been flying so close to the ridge because there was a mountain bowl on either side of it.  But I'd flown over that ridge two or three times that flight.  Thinking back I can't figure out how it happened.  There were some really weird conditions that I'd never seen before," Bennett said.

"Gene was flying along level and all of a sudden he was pointed straight at the ground.  He was the last person it should have happened to."

The son of Chaplain and Mrs. John Maakestad of 4304 Needle Circle, Maakestad leaves his parents, one brother Walter, and four sisters, Laura, Ellen, Muriel and Carol.

Sunday's accident was the first hang-gliding fatality in Alaska since the sport became popular two years ago.