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Permit-less Americans glide into Sikkim net

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  • Published 18.03.11

Gangtok, March 17: Two American paragliders, whose purported online profiles list stellar exploits in the US and Asia, sailed across the border into Sikkim from Nepal without permits and took in the picturesque sights for two days before getting themselves entangled in red tape.

Eric Reed, 45, and Brad Sander, 35, were arrested yesterday in Sikkim for travelling to the strategic border state without the inner-line permits mandatory for foreigners. The two had valid passports and visas for entering India. Preliminary reports suggest they flew in without the permits because of a misunderstanding.

The Himalayan Odyssey website lists one Eric Reed as the national paragliding champion of the US in 2003. Last year, according to the site, he held first place through the first four tasks of the Mexico world championships. The site says Sander had sailed higher than anyone in Pakistan and further than anyone in Asia.

Since the two are being kept in a remote area in Sikkim, it could not be confirmed if they are the same pilots the site mentions.

The foreigners were found roaming in a bazaar in Uttarey, a town in West district in Sikkim. They were picked up by the police after they failed to produce the permits.

Deputy inspector-general of police N. Sridhar Rao said the two Americans had used paragliders to sail into Sikkim and had landed on the flat terrain of Dhaap, near Uttarey and close to the India-Nepal border, on March 14.

Sikkim shares a 101km border with Nepal. The border areas are inaccessible because of high altitudes and difficult terrain. The Sashastra Seema Bal guards the border in Uttarey. Apart from Nepal, Sikkim shares borders with China (215km) in the north and the east and Bhutan (32km) in the east.

The DIG said foreigners must take the permits from check-posts at Rangpo and Melli, the two main points of entry into Sikkim. “Neither Reed nor Sander had the permits and they were charged with entering Sikkim illegally.”

They have been charged under the Foreigners Act for not carrying documents necessary to enter restricted areas in the country. Police officers said that if convicted, they could be jailed between two and eight years and/or fined Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000.

The police have found the two paraglider craft, gliding equipment and cameras.

According to sources, the paragliders had sailed from Pokhara in east Nepal. They were keen on paragliding in Sikkim and had got in touch with the Indian Paragliding Association, based in Goa.

“The Goa outfit got in touch with the Sikkim Paragliding Adventure Sports Association,” a source said. The Sikkim outfit then contacted the two Americans. “Apparently, at this point, there was some misunderstanding and the Americans got the impression that they would be provided with the inner-line permit once they landed in Sikkim,” the source said. “This did not happen. Besides, the permits have to be obtained while entering Sikkim or before, not after.”

The police have detained Raju Rai, the vice-president of the Sikkim paragliding outfit.

At the check-posts in Rangpo in the south and Melli in the west, arrangements are made by the Sikkim government to provide inner-line permits to foreigners after verifying their documents. They can also be obtained from the Delhi and Calcutta offices of the Sikkim government.