PG Accident in Richfield, Utah 5/30/16

Not sure if you guys know this, but Eckehart Zimmermann (Eck) had a bad crash while he was in Richfield, Utah over the holiday weekend. I’m getting updates from the Elevation Delegation Facebook page, if I see anything new I’ll update this post.

Darren was there and saw the whole event and will post up his account later this evening.

Here is a great update from his wife Bev. 6/01/16

Bummer to hear ECk

My thought are with you ECK Heal well


Rest and heal up soon Eck.

Thinking of you buddy!

Have been informed that I put my stuff on Eck’s accident on the wrong forum topic, so copying it here:

Ecks accident
Postby Darren » Sat Jun 04, 2016 9:43 pm

I should have done this out here a few days ago, but for some reason I find it much harder to talk about someone else’s accident than my own. And I’ve had a few, just not with as sever consequences.
Anyway, I’ll try to be as brief as possible and still, hopefully, satisfy most folks very reasonable curiosity and concern.
On Memorial day we had gotten skunked (more like blown out) from the Cove Mtn launch behind Monroe. I was the only one that launched, from a spot a couple hundred feet lower than the usual launch, and it’s debatable whether I should have. My flight was interesting, but not necessarily much fun. Nobody else launched.
So we came down and later went to Poverty Ridge to the south end of the valley, which is mostly a ridge soaring site facing north when the conditions are right. Well, we got there and the winds were definitely coming in, but a bit too strong. There were weaker cycles of 10-15 mph, but more often there were periods of 15-20+ (I had a pitot tube). So, we waited an hour or more (don’t remember how long) for the winds to die down a bit. A couple of guys had their wings out in anticipation, since we’d seen the weaker cycles come more often. Finally, about 4:10 PM it looked like the weaker were coming longer and more often and so Eck decided to launch. As you can see from the pics, he started heading up and forward in the weaker cycle he launched in. But about 100 feet out and up, one of the strong cycles hit and you can see from the pic that his wing pitched back a bit. From there, as you can see from the last pic I took, he is both higher and further back. I didn’t take any more pictures. I was just watching and hoping.
Why Eck didn’t get into his harness earlier and get on his speed bar, I’m not certain. My guess is that, at least initially, he felt he didn’t need to since he was going forward, and he was anticipating more turbulent air, which really didn’t hit him at that point. Once the strong cycle hit him, I’m also guessing he wishes he had gotten into his harness and on his speed bar sooner, as that likely would have kept him forward enough to keep going up without going back too much. In fact, in the last pic, it appears he IS trying to get into his pod, but he couldn’t quite get in it till he was much further back, and it turns out too far back. When he finally did get in his harness, he was so far back that I think he felt he had to turn and run, rather than sink below the lift and take a dive. Unfortunately, he turned into the deeper part of the valley behind the ridge and very quickly his wing balled up and twisted. It looked to me like it might re-inflate half way down, but it quickly collapsed again. My guess is he was about 200 feet up when this all started.
I missed the last 10-20 feet, so couldn’t see how he actually hit the ground, but he was getting thrown around pretty harshly the whole way. I was the closest and got to him in about 20 seconds. He was on his stomach, face down, with his left arm awkwardly pinned behind him, and (thankfully) he heard me coming and said right away, “Turn me over. Turn me over.” I’m not sure that I should have, but I rolled his whole body and harness to the side so he could get his face off the ground and breath. Then when Jeff got there we maneuvered him a bit more toward his back and unhooked his harness straps, though he was still laying in it. Eck wanted to get up, but we cautioned him that that was adrenalin and that he should stay lying where he was till help came. We got some support under his head and that’s where he stayed till the cavalry arrived.
He never lost consciousness, but I think the pain began to hit pretty soon after. Thankfully the rescue and EMT folks got there surprisingly quickly.
I had asked him while we were waiting for the EMT folks why he didn’t throw his reserve. All he said then was that he couldn’t. I didn’t press the issue. He’ll likely elaborate more when he can.

It is arguable that we shouldn’t have flown, or been preparing to fly, considering the strong cycles, and that argument has more weight considering Eck’s experience. Eck was the first to launch, but if he hadn’t been, it likely would’ve been someone else, and in the same conditions. One of those cases perhaps where the desire to fly overcame the better judgement for when to fly, or not. In other words, yes, if he’d gotten on his speed bar sooner, he likely wouldn’t have gotten pushed too far back. And yet if that’s what it takes to stay out front in the strong cycles, should we be launching at all? Likely not. Always easier to judge in hindsight, of course.


Link to photos:

Here are the updates from Bev (Eck’s wife) from the hospital in Provo:
June 1:
As you know, Eck was brought to Provo from Richfield, UT late Monday night. He had surgery overnight to stabilize the fractures in his spine. He had a displaced C7 vertebrae and a burst thoracic vertebrae. So the neurosurgeon put in plates & screws in both places to realign and stabilize those areas. He also has a displaced lumbar vertebrae which has not been addressed yet. The doc didn’t see any immediate danger with that injury and he had already been in surgery for 8 hours. Eck was very lucky, particularly with the neck injury. Looking at the scans, the vertebrae above the displaced one actually shifted, too, creating a larger gap for the spinal cord to pass through. Otherwise, his spinal cord could easily have been severed. The surgeon came in last night and showed me the before & after scans and he is confident that the spinal column is stable in those areas. At this point he is not sure about what damage the spinal cord has sustained. Eck can move his arms and hands freely, and his right leg & foot seem to be ok. He has feeling in the left leg but so far can’t move it and can’t contract the quad muscle on that side. That could be temporary, but at this point we don’t know.

The plan now is for him to rest and heal a little today, and tomorrow he will have a second surgery to repair the lumbar vertebrae. This surgery won’t be nearly as involved as the first one. As for the fractured pelvis, the doctors here are consulting with an orthopedic surgeon in Salt Lake City who specializes in the pelvis (their specialist in Provo is on vacation, I think). Right now, the plan is to transport Eck up to Salt Lake for surgery on the pelvis, probably at the end of this week. Other minor injuries are one broken rib and a small fracture in the right elbow (which they have already stitched up). They initially suspected a laceration of the liver, but that turned out to be minimal. Fortunately no brain or chest injuries, other than the single rib.

Eck is still intubated following the surgery yesterday. They will keep the tube in until after his surgery tomorrow, they hopefully they can remove it. He is heavily sedated due to the intubation and as expected, on a lot of pain meds (he is lying on a fractured sacrum which has to hurt!). But he is responsive to questions and commands and opens his eyes a little.

We will be here in Utah for the foreseeable future before Eck is able to travel back to Colorado. I have a feeling that once his body is structurally stable, he will be pushing the limits to get better quickly. He’s a stubborn German and is not going to let this keep him down for long.

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and good wishes. I know Eck will look forward to seeing you all when he gets back home. I will keep sending updates and will let you know when he may be able to talk on the phone. Right now we’re both taking this one day at a time.


June 3:

Just a quick update on Eck. The second surgery on his spine yesterday (lumbar vertebrae) went well. Found out today that he will be able to stay at the Provo hospital because the orthopedic pelvis specialist here just came back from vacation and will be able to do Eck’s surgery. That’s good news since it eliminates the need for a transfer to Salt Lake, but bad news is that the doc has several surgeries to do so we don’t have a schedule yet for Eck’s. I’m really hoping for tomorrow. Eck is starting to get frustrated with the tube down his throat. He tries to communicate but it’s hard to figure out what he wants, so I’m getting a lot of dirty looks, as you can imagine!
I’ll let you know after he has the next surgery. It will be a huge relief to get over that next hurdle and get this tube out of his throat!

Darren - USHPA# 87543

Re: Ecks accident
Postby Darren » Sun Jun 05, 2016 11:24 pm

Update from Bev:
Eck was moved up to a hospital in Salt Lake City today (Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) in Murray) for surgery on his pelvis tomorrow. The orthopedic surgeon in Provo couldn’t do the surgery until next Saturday, and Eck really didn’t want to wait that long. They took his tube out yesterday, so he’s able to talk although his voice is barely a whisper. The surgery on his pelvis will require more hardware… he has a broken sacrum and fractures in his pubic bone so more screws & rods to put it back together. The surgeon said that once he has the surgery he should be in a lot less pain. As you can imagine, pain has been considerable. He has some fluid built up in and around his lungs so breathing has been difficult. They may put a chest tube in tonight to drain the fluid.
After the surgery tomorrow it will be a waiting game as to when Eck will be able to return to Colorado. I’m hoping in a few days he might be able to talk on the phone.

I’ll keep you posted. Scott, thanks for getting Eck’s car this week.


From Jeff B. Mon Jun 06, 2016 6:52 am

Latest update from Bev today:

Eck got through the last surgery on Monday night. It went well; four more screws in his pelvis, and these are huge! Eck will have to show you all the x-rays when he gets home. He has so much metal in his body now. The fluid around his lungs was still building and affecting his breathing so they put chest tubes into each side right after surgery to drain it. It’s still draining a little so he won’t be getting those out right now.

He started physical therapy on Tuesday. At first they are very short sessions; he’s been sitting up with his legs hanging off the bed and the PT puts a back brace on, then he does a few stability exercises. It’s quite painful with all his injuries, as you can imagine.

Eck is very alert now but his voice is still a whisper, probably from swelling in his throat due to the spinal surgery and the tube down his throat. He’s dying to eat but the speech therapist still won’t let him until the throat is better. Good news is that he may be moving out of the ICU and to a regular room today.

Darren, Eck read your recap of his crash this morning and I showed him the photos. He said it was an accurate description, and also explained that the reason he didn’t get into his pod and on the speed bar sooner is that with his knees he can’t kick his legs back to get into the pod, he has to take a hand and pull it forward. So on that flight he was having to fight the wind before trying to get into the pod.

With his voice I’m not sure how well he can talk on the phone but he has his phone with him now and can send and receive text messages.

We still don’t have a schedule for returning to Colorado. I have checked out the the hotel I’ve been staying and will move into one of those extended stay places with weekly rates. My sister drove my car out here from home and stayed a couple of days. Eck’s sister will be coming in from Boston early next week for two days.

That’s about it for now.


Update on Eck.
Got surprised by a call from Eck this morning. Though he can only whisper at this point, it was really great to talk to him and have a real conversation. I get the feeling he is really wanting this rehab thing to move along as quickly as possible. I can’t blame him. I would feel the same way.
As a followup I asked Bev and Eck for a more detailed update I could post. Here is what Bev sent:
I was really glad to find out that Eck is starting to make calls and reconnect with people. Scott, he will try to get ahold of you later today.
The latest complication for him was the discovery of a paralyzed vocal cord. His voice has not gotten any stronger and the speech therapists haven’t been happy with his swallowing (so he still isn’t allowed to eat). On Wednesday they did a camera scope of his throat and found that one of the vocal cords wasn’t moving. The ENT specialist said that the nerve to the vocal cord was probably damaged during surgery on his neck. There are surgical treatments that can be done to help, but due to the rods & screws in his neck, it isn’t safe for Eck to have surgery for at least another 4-6 weeks. So that will be something that will be dealt with when we get back to Colorado.
The main holdup for getting discharged from this hospital in Salt Lake is the lung issue. Whatever injury to the lungs caused by his accident is causing too much fluid to be produced and built up in the chest cavity. Both sides are still draining quite a bit of fluid. So the lungs have to heal more in order to take the chest tubes out. No one can predict how long that will take.
I contacted Craig Hospital this week to see if that facility will be an option for Eck’s rehab. A liason from Craig will be here tomorrow to talk to us and give us more information. I’m really hoping it works out because they have a fanastic reputation for spinal cord injury rehab and it’s close to home. Once Eck gets closer to being discharged from here, then we will work on transport arrangements (most likely an air ambulance). A week ago Eck assured me that he would be ready to climb into my Subaru and drive back! That’s not going to happen!
So we’re in a “wait & see” mode right now, hoping that the lungs improve so the chest tubes can be removed. Then he will be ready to get out of Utah!

Update from Bev:

Hi Darren,
Here is the e-mail I sent out yesterday about Eck. Unfortunately, he had another setback late in the day. After the chest tubes were taken out the left lung collapsed. So the doctor had to put another tube into that side. Another bump in the road that will delay his return to Colorado. We have to take it a day at a time now until the left lung heals, but it will probably delay his discharge from the hospital here by another week.

I got him a bluetooth headset to use with his phone. Hopefully his voice will come across louder on calls. We’ll test it out when he’s feeling better.

I’ll keep you posted.


From: Bev Zimmermann
Sent: Saturday, June 18, 4:06 PM
Subject: Update on Eck

Hi Darren & Scott,
We finally see light at the end of this tunnel (with a few more tunnels to come). Eck’s lungs have healed enough to get the chest tubes removed this afternoon. That was a huge step closer to getting him discharged from the SLC hospital and moved to Craig Hospital in Denver for rehab. He now has to wait 48 hours before he’s cleared to fly. On Monday I will finalize the transport arrangements and admissions process with Craig. The soonest Eck can go is Tuesday, and I don’t expect it to be much longer than that. In the meantime, he has been getting physical therapy here every day and is gaining strength and mobility.

I will let you know when he gets settled at Craig. They have told me that the first three days there are spent doing tests, scans, and reviewing records in order to get a baseline and come up with a plan for rehab. Then he’ll be ready to get to work.


Update from Eck via phone text.
Eck just texted me. I doubt there’s anything here that he would mind me sharing, and I don’t want to forget again, so here it is:
Hi Won’t be leaving Salt Lake until next Tuesday. Continuing complications with my collapsed right lung, but should be better in the next few days. Gaining strength on the rest of body. I can move the Left leg but no strength in it. Can’t complain really but being in bed 100% of the time is not something I am used to. Hope you are getting some good flying in.