‘We didn’t know it was one of our own:’ Rescuers recount coming to aid of crashed paraglider

ST. GEORGE — When Washington County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue responded to reports that a paraglider had crashed west of St. George just after 5 p.m. Friday, the first rescuer to climb the hill where the pilot lay injured didn’t know it was a member of his own team he was rescuing.

Jeff Hunt (foreground), and Brad Roper (background) paraglide over Church Rocks, Sept. 27, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Brad Roper, St. George News.

“At first, we didn’t know it was one of our own,” said Sgt. Darrell Cashin, who serves as liaison between the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and search and rescue. “It changes the dynamic when you realize it’s one of your own. We’ve got to be extra careful in moments like that.”

Cashin wasn’t referring to special treatment, but rather the human tendency towards trying too hard, which can lead to making the situation worse.

“Something like that hits close to home,” Cashin said. “We’ve got to mitigate the effects of rescuing a team member, try to keep our emotions under control.”

That’s a tough proposition, as Hunt was conscious when search and rescue arrived at the scene.

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin spoke to St. George News about the worry he has for search and rescue volunteers being run ragged by constant calls, St. George, Utah, Oct. 20, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“He was talking but he was in a lot of pain,” Cashin said.

Hunt’s best friend, Brad Roper, was flying alongside Hunt. Roper, who gives utility task vehicle tours at Sand Hollow Park and trains paramotor pilots on his off days, said that he and Roper connected over their love for extreme sports.

“He’s a little wild like me,” Roper said.

Roper said they were familiar with their flight path, and nothing was out of the ordinary.

“When we took off from St. James Park, the weather conditions were good,” Roper said. “We had a killer flight. The views over Snow Canyon were beautiful. Then a sudden gust of wind hit us, and our parachutes collapsed.”

Roper was at a higher altitude, so he recovered more easily.

“My heart sunk when I looked over my shoulder and saw his chute collapse,” Roper said.

Hunt recovered from the first gust of wind, but he had dropped 75 feet. When a second gust collapsed Hunt’s parachute again, he was only 40 feet off the ground.

“He just didn’t have the altitude to recover,” Roper said.

Before landing, Roper saw some cyclists pedaling through the rugged terrain below.

“I yelled at them to go over and help Jeff,” Roper said. “After landing safely, I called 911.”

Video of the crash, courtesy of Roper, can be seen at the start of this story.

Robb Dye, a counselor from Pocatello, ID, was riding bikes with his brother Adam, a nurse practitioner, when the two saw Jeff Hunt crash Jan. 1, 2020. The Dye brothers helped care for Hunt until Intermountain Life Flight arrived on the scene. | Photo Courtesy of Brad Roper, St. George News.

Robb Dye, a counselor who traveled from Pocatello, Idaho, to St. George to visit his brother Adam, was riding his bike near the Zen Trailhead when he heard Roper’s frantic calls for help.

“We watched Hunt hit a weird pocket of air,” Dye said. “He almost went down, so we kept on watching. Then he hit another weird pocket of air and went down.”

Dye and his brother, a nurse practitioner, raced their bikes toward where Hunt landed. They found him buried beneath his parachute.

“Adam did some assessment,” Dye said. “Adam coached me while we monitored Hunt’s injuries and his mental state. We knew his injuries were bad, because he wasn’t responding coherently.”

Dye said that he prayed over Hunt.

“We needed all the help we could get,” Dye said.

The Dye brothers stayed with Hunt until Intermountain Life Flight arrived, and transported him to St. George Regional Hospital.

Hunt sustained multiple injuries, including a ruptured aorta, broken femur, hip, pelvis and ribs, as well as bleeding on his brain and pancreas.

As of Sunday afternoon, Hunt had surgery to repair his aorta, which Roper said was successful. But Hunt was still awaiting surgery to repair his femur and his pelvis, among other injuries.

“Coming through that first surgery is a good sign,” Cashin said. “Still, we’re all holding our breath.”

Brad Roper, Jeff Hunt, and three others paraglide through Determination Towers in Moab, Utah, Oct. 18, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Brad Roper, St. George News.

Cashin said that Hunt, a member of the high angle rope rescue team, is a well-liked and respected member of the search and rescue team.

“He wants to know everything about every aspect of his work,” Cashin said. “He wants to know all the techniques, all the dangers. He’s one of those guys who buys his own gear, and it’s always the best.”

This was the first time Cashin had to rescue one of his own.

“We want him to get well,” Cashin said. “We want to make sure that he and his family have everything they need.”

For those who’d like to donate to help Jeff Hunt’s family, donations will be accepted at Venmo Jeff-Hunt-1 and here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!