May 3rd, 2012
08:58 PM ET

Glider pilot accused of swallowing evidence awaits hearing

Lenami Godinez-Avila had just started a tandem hang-gliding flight with an instructor - a gift from her boyfriend - when she fell from the glider, plunging hundreds of feet to her death Saturday in a heavily wooded part of western Canada, authorities say.

Investigators trying to determine why she fell are accusing the instructor of trying to hide what might be a key piece of evidence - a possible onboard video recording of the flight - in his digestive tract.

William Jonathan Orders, 50, was arrested Saturday and charged this week with obstructing justice, accused of swallowing a memory card from a video camera that accompanied the pair on the flight near Agassiz, British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Orders is scheduled to appear Friday afternoon in provincial court in Chilliwack for a hearing to determine whether he can be released on bail. But it’s unclear if it will be postponed - as it was Wednesday - if authorities haven’t retrieved the memory card, said Neil MacKenzie, communications counsel with the province’s criminal justice branch.

X-rays confirmed the card was in Orders’ body, and authorities as of Thursday morning still were waiting for the object to pass, RCMP Constable Tracy Wolbeck said. Investigators hope to recover the object.

“It’s difficult to speculate” whether the card will have retrievable video, Wolbeck said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see.”

The fall happened near Mount Woodside, from which Orders and the 27-year-old Godinez-Avila took off, more than 50 miles east of Vancouver.

A witness, Nicole McLearn, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that when the glider was in the air, Godinez-Avila appeared to be wearing her harness, but it wasn’t attached to the glider. The passenger clung to Orders before she fell, McLearn said.

"He was horizontal but she was now hanging vertically, and it looked like in essence she had him in a bear hug around the chest area," McLearn told the CBC.

"I could see her starting to slip down his body ... past the waist, down the legs. Finally she got to the feet and tried to hang on and obviously couldn't hang on for that much longer and let go, tearing off the tandem pilot's shoes in the process," McLearn said.

Jason Warner, safety director for the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, told the CBC on Sunday that he talked to Orders shortly after the incident on Saturday afternoon.

"He tried to grab her - he tried to grab her harness, everything he could, wrapped his legs around her - and she slipped down his legs and then fell," Warner told the CBC.

Godinez-Avila’s boyfriend was videotaping the flight from the ground, the RCMP’s Wolbeck said. She said she couldn’t say how much of the flight was on the boyfriend’s camera, but the RCMP has the footage.

Godinez-Avila’s body was found Saturday after an extensive search of the wooded area, the RCMP said.

Orders told police he had swallowed the memory card of the onboard camera, Wolbeck said. When asked whether Orders explained why he had done so, Wolbeck said she couldn’t comment further on conversations he’d had with investigators.

The RCMP said it and the Coroners Service of British Columbia are investigating the incident.

“She became detached from the hang glider and fell, but how she came to be detached is what we’re still working on,” Barb McLintock, coroner with the Coroners Service of British Columbia, said Thursday.

A call on Thursday seeking comment from Orders’ attorney, Laird Cruickshank, was not immediately returned.

Orders is the owner and operator of Vancouver Hang Gliding. The business’ website said it charges $210 plus tax for an introductory tandem flight on weekends, and $190 plus tax on weekdays.

For $30 extra, the website says, customers can get “video footage of your flight in memory card.”

Godinez-Avila lived in Canada for nine years, having come to the country with her parents from Mexico, Wolbeck said.

Pat Denevan, longtime hang-gliding instructor and the owner of San Francisco Hang Gliding Center and the Mission Soaring Center in California, said people who go hang gliding wear a harness. A strap from the harness is then clipped into a main “hang loop” on the glider’s frame, using a mountaineering carabiner, he said.

A strap also is clipped to a backup loop, Denevan said. The straps are able to take thousands of pounds of force, and gliders are “good for six times the force of gravity,” he said.

“It’s up to the instructor to check that he’s hooked in and that his passenger is hooked in before he takes off,” Denevan said of the typical tandem hang-gliding flight. “This is standard procedure.”

McLintock said that if investigators determine Godinez-Avila’s death was an accident, the coroner’s service would take the lead in the investigation. Investigators are looking into whether pilot error or equipment failure were factors, and experts in the hang-gliding field probably will examine the equipment, she said.

After investigators determine what happened, the coroner’s service hopes to make “recommendations both reasonable and practical to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances,” she said.

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Filed under: Canada • Courts • Crime
soundoff (336 Responses)
  1. NorCalMojo

    Put him in a cell with a bucket. See if he'll eat it again.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Charles Smythe

    I am willing to bet the suppressed evidence was the big fattie they smoked . . . which would explain how things got forgot . . .

    May 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dana

    ok, if you all are going to attempt gallows humor, at least make it funny. No more "she lost her grip or reality" or "that's slick"....c'mon youzguyz, elevate the jokes.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gene Putnal

      How about, It will all come out ok in the end.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suzanne

      Gallows Humor: Didn't pay the new $100 carry on baggage fee.

      All you geniuses: Both Canada and the U.S.A. are in America. America is not a country.

      May 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jim

    Why would he have to hand over evidence incriminating himself? Only in fascist america.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloe

      This was in Canada, not the US. Read for comprehension.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • GoBlue88

      This happened in Canada, genius. Only in "fascist america" do we have people with awful reading comprehension.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janet

      I imagine that the memory card belonged to either the victim or her boyfriend because he paid for the flight. It did not belong to the instructor.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • sammyg

      You have a strange understanding of the fifth amendment!

      May 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • M Houston

      Evidence is evidence...If it incriminates him, so be it.
      If it were to exonerate him would you have a problem with his being made to turn it over?
      I didn't think so. Only in Canada.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • BuzzardBreath

      You should read the story before commenting. This took place in Canada.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • onthemile

      Did you read this story? It happened in Canada.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Craig

      It would only have been incriminating if there was evidence of wrong-doing, otherwise it could have cleared him. Instead this genius deliberately swallows evidence that could have exonerated him, which leads me to believe it was the opposite, so his rights have pretty much become suspended.

      Also, Sherlock, this happened in Canada, which while technically is in the Americas I'm pretty sure wasn't what you were saying.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Yeah, why would he have to accept responsibility for the death of a innocent victim... Pshh, Responsibility.. Not in this country.
      We are American's, nothing's our fault, especially if we have money.

      May 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • STEVE

      It's called justice.

      May 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • RS

      I guess that would be Fascist Canada.. why? Because someone's dead and it seems like this guy basically killed her (through negligence, not hooking her up correctly).

      May 4, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • TQ

      Canada – the entire thing happened in Canada. Not America. So the article really doesn't illustrate a Fascist America at all. Unless you meant to say Fascist NORTH America...

      May 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • FrozenChosen

      Ummmm....this happened in Canada.

      May 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • It happened in Canada

      Wow, read the article, guy. I doubt you really know what fascism is, either.

      May 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • dred44

      Still having those dim days Jim?

      May 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John Tompkins

    Last hang-gliding accident I heard about was when Chaz in Wedding Crashers went to the funeral of the guy who died in one. Worked out well for him.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tim

    How would they even know he swallowed the memory card? How would that come up? The memory card isn't in the camera – he must have swallowed it!? Why wouldn't he just have thrown the memory card in to the wild – know-one would ever find it.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane

      Great questions Tim. How would the subject of swallowing the memory card come up, and why didn't he simply throw the card into the wild, where it would never be found? I guess this will all come out later.

      May 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • dred44

      The RCMP assumes all within the forest area are suspects, so all will X Ray-ed including da Bears.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NNN

    Something is really stinky with this investigation... i guess it will come out eventually. This story really grabs me where others fall short. I can hardly stomach it.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    This probably won't be good for the business...maybe pony rides might be their next venture.

    May 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BobInIrvine

    I bet the video retrieved will be of crappy quality.

    May 4, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Horrible

    We are all human and high-risk sports make people pay for their lives after some mistakes. This type of accident is not unheard of, including (especially?) for solo flights. Similarly, sometimes rock climbers using ropes forget to tie in.

    I took solo hang-gliding intro lessons once and was surprised how easy it was to overlook a forgotten connection to the frame. Once you commit to your leap for the take off, you can momentarily react by holding on tight (like a water skier holding on to the handle after they've fallen). After just a brief moment of holding on by mistake, the ground can have fallen away far beneath you – especially when taking off from a steep area. Also, if you take off over an area where an emergency abort is effectively impossible, like trees or rocks, you have additional problems. The mistake is so easily avoided but not completely surprising.

    May 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sperry23

    Oh, he's going to be so sorry he swallowed that mem card. They are made with toxic materials. He stands a 50/50 chance of becoming gravely ill. It all depends on how much acid his system produced. And right about now, I suspect he's got enough acid indigestion to light up Ontario!

    May 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    The BF paid for the onboard camera and was filming himself as well.. I highly doubt he paid the pilot to kill her.. The logical explanation is the harness was never tied to the glider when it took off.. death was immienent. RIP sad story

    May 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jbkorn02

    I'm guessing there were other things like smoking a joint or maybe even something bad on the memory card so it was swallowed in a panic knowing that would be seen and job lost. I can't think of another reason

    May 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MissyCKB

    Wow. So this girl 'fell'....and the pilot's first reflex was to eat the evidence?.....That is tragic......
    Her boyfriend's probably blaming himself.....
    Oh, and humor isn't always meant to be wry in situations like this. It's a way to bring light to a dark subject. Or like like smiling when you're about to cry. Different people choose different ways to respond to grief and sadness. That doesn't make them morons; it just means that emotions aren't always in line with a certain person's opinion. If that's a problem...cry about it :/

    May 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JerseyJeff

    If he is trying to hide some form of misconduct on his part in his duties as an instructor that led to her death, he is a coward.

    Negligence and mistakes can happen and people can find closure in knowing what happened. Now he is just a coward that won't face up to the consequences of his own actions.

    May 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
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