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. JoePub

    Ah, the memories of eating the memory card.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. VegasRage

    As someone who hates heights, I really feel for that girl. This instructor is a piece of sh** if he swallowed the evidence, obviously it was incompetence he is trying to hide.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ken

    What are the possibilities here? (1) The Main Hook and Backup hook, able to hold thousands of pounds, failed. (2) Only one hook was attached to the person and that hook, able to hold thousands of pounds, failed. (3) They somehow managed to launch the hang glider into the air with no hooks attached for her. (4) They launched with hook or hooks attached which then were purposefully detached in flight.

    Now (1) and (2) will be easy to check as they have the harness and the glider and can check for any signs of failure. Most likely that have done this and ruled a failure out already. That leaves (3)= Incompetence + Manslaughter charges or (4) = Murder charges. At best this owner is already looking at Manslaughter charges, years in prison, his business closed and everything lost .. even with no chip.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Sounds reasonable to me!

      May 4, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • J.C.

      #3 is the most likely scenario.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Herbie

      Seems straight forward enough unless and until we find out that the boyfriend hired the pilot to murder his girlfriend and something on the storage card reveals this fact.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Jo Mama

      Or maybe the instructor just panicked. That's possible given that one second he's got a passenger and the next she's pulled off his shoes as she plunged a few hundred feet to her death, ala Wiley Coyote. He's got a few minutes alone in the glider, with nowhere to run/hide and he just freaks out. Clearly, he wasn't thinking rationally. Swallowing the card might erase damaging material, but he told the RCMP that he did it. Why would he do that? Cuz he realized he panicked and it was a dumb thing to do. If he was culpable, the smarter thing to do would have been to bash the card on the metal bars, and drop it, ideally over a stream/pond, for it to never be found. It took them a while to find the body; how likely are they to find a dropped memory card? Whatever happened, it's a tragic story.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • YouFool

      This is Canada you fool.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Stella Nova

      Not being properly strapped-in/connected, is a consistent problem in Hang Gliding and Paragliding. Getting distracted during the pre-flight can cause this. What a shame. It happens to solo pilots, too.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. candw1

    Moral of this terrible story, never go hang sliding. So very sad that this young girl had to die.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joanna

      Never go hang gliding :( You obviously know nothing about the sport .

      May 4, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. TS

    We need to hire this company to work in the southwest,illegals ride for free.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • BigSir

      For future reference, thats a thought you might want to keep to yourself.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Jodey

      What an evil thing to say.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • luispedroza

      You're disgusting.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Bellabryan35

      Wow, that was a very tasteless comment. Nowhere in this article did it say she was illegal. It said she was Mexican. Assuming she was illegal is your second problem. What's your first? Not having any compassion for a young life taken. Even with your comment, I wouldn't wish that same scenario to happen to you. SMH!

      May 4, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul Elkins

      Why stop there TS? Why not build them chemical showers and large furnace ovens? Yeah, you're a "Real American" alright.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Silver Back

      And how would you determine who's illegal, skin color? you Dork!

      May 4, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Surgerytime

    It sounds like time to put this yahoo into the emergency room and cut the guy open to get it. This guy made a conscious decision to swallow thing thing. Let him pay the price of getting it out.

    Personally, I would have just shot him as soon as he landed.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      This is Canada not the Deep South. We have these pesky little things called laws

      May 4, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. Surgerytime

    It sounds like time to put this yahoo into the emergency room and cut the guy open to get it. This guy made a conscious decision to swallow thing thing. Let him pay the price of getting it out.

    Personally, I would have just shot him as soon as he landed........

    May 4, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. banasy©

    @YouGottaBeKiddingMe:
    I don't know what you are replying to, as it appears that the post has been deleted; judging from you answer, though, I would have loved to have seen it!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Aeromechanic

    Damn Candians!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jross

      What's a Candian?

      May 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bubba

    Good thing she paid the extra $30

    May 4, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. eroteme

    Do not know if this works in Canada but it works like a charm in the United States. All Godinez-Avila needs to do is say, "I accept full responsibility for swallowing the memory card." In the USA taking full responsibility for most anything works like a charm. All is forgiven and forgotten, and the one making such claim is admired for accepting responsibility for the misdoing.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      What are you talking about, crazy lady?

      May 4, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. achepotle

    I am sick of Canadians and their shananigans

    May 4, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • babaganoush

      It's "shenanigans" and we can be a sneaky bunch!

      May 4, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • jross

      @babaganoush, were you in Nakusp a few summers ago? Snap-snap.

      May 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    That young girl was someones Daughter see if you would be making jokes if she was some body in your familey!!
    NOT SO FUNNY THEN...

    May 4, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jus_me

      I agree with Micheal, so many on the comments section just have useless stupid things to say, someone frm her family could be reading this, too bad such respect has been lost along the way. There is nothing funny bout this at all, its very tragic and my heart goes out to the girls family and friends.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  14. babaganoush

    This happened almost a week ago. It's old news here in Canada. Way to be on the ball CNN!!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • eroteme

      CNN like the rest of our media slips a bit from time to time if not regularly. Not so long ago sensational news was brought forward about this African-American child who went to the store to buy candy, was shot and killed with candy in his pocket. After creating nationwide outrage, the media surfaced the news that the child with candy in his pocket was 17 years old and heavier and taller than the one who shot him.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. eroteme

    I wonder if the memory card might be retrieved by surgery.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Herbie

      I dont think you need surgery to get the card back; it will come out naturally.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
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