A Kalimpong resident claimed on Sunday that he had seen the ill-fated paraglider split into two in mid-air when the pilot was performing a stunt.
The claim is contrary to the Kalimpong Paragliding Association’s version that the aircraft had brushed against a tree because of a sudden strong gust before plummeting about 40ft down onto a concrete rooftop on Saturday afternoon.
A boy also said on Sunday that he had seen the paraglider tear into two in the sky before the crash.
The pilot, Purosttam Timsina, died in the crash, while the accompanying tourist, Gaurav Chaudhury, 35, suffered injuries to the legs and hand.
Timsina, 22, was a resident of Pokhara in Nepal. Chaudhury belongs to Patna.
The association stuck to its version on Sunday and said it was “impossible” for the paraglider to disintegrate in mid-air and said the operators were ready for any investigation by experts.
Bipan Pradhan, a resident of the Dr Graham’s Homes area in Kalimpong, said: “It was around 2.30pm yesterday afternoon. The pilot was trying a stunt when the paraglider tore into two pieces. A part of it got entangled in a tree, while the other portion, including the pilot (and the tourist), fell on the rooftop (of a concrete house).”
The crash occurred near the Dr Graham’s Homes area.
A boy who identified himself as Anish Saha, too, had a similar version. “The aircraft tore into two pieces and spiralled down. The two parts went in different directions.”
Bipen Tamang, the spokesman for the paragliders’ association, had said on Saturday that the pilot was trying to control the flying machine when a strong wind dragged it away from the landing spot. He said the sail had slammed into a tree and the aircraft plunged 40ft down.
Told about the eyewitnesses’ accounts, Tamang said: “What I had said was based on the report I had received from the ground level. I tell you it is impossible for the paraglider to tear into two pieces in mid-air.”
“We are ready for any investigation by experts,” he added.
If the versions by the two residents stand true, questions arise on the maintenance of the gliding aircraft.
People associated with the adventure sport said it was normal for paragliders to perform manoeuvres in air.
“The pilots conduct thorough checks before every flight. Since the pilot’s life is also at stake, there is no question of negligence. We immediately stop the flight if the pilot reports a complaint,” said Tamang.
Seven private companies operate around 40 flights from Deolo to Ronaldshay Park in the Dr Graham’s Homes area in Kalimpong.
A tourist is charged Rs 3,000 for a flight of 10 to 15 minutes.
Asked if an additional parachute was attached to a pilot, Tamang said: “This is not possible in our region as we do not fly very high. If the altitude is very high, parachutes are attached to pilots at other places.”
Tourism stakeholders said the Bengal government was yet to formulate an adventure tourism policy. “It is important that the government draws up a policy for adventure tourism — whether it is paragliding, rafting, trekking or rock climbing,” a tour operator said.