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Climate campaigner Sacha Dench survives paraglider crash which killed cameraman Dan Burton near Loch Na Gainmhich in Sutherland

By Mike Merritt

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Dan Burton (54) was killed in the collision. Picture: Conservation Without Borders
Dan Burton (54) was killed in the collision. Picture: Conservation Without Borders

An investigation has been launched after 'Human Swan' Sacha Dench miraculously survived a mid-air collision which killed a companion camerman.

The conservationist adventurer had been in the Highlands during her round-Britain challenge, flying a paramotor to raise awareness of the effects of climate change.

She is recovering in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness from serious, but not life threatening injuries.

Emergency services were called out to the incident, which happened south of Unapool in Sutherland, on Saturday.

Police and ambulance both attended the scene, while the fire service sent two pumps and a special resource vehicle from Inverness.

The charity Conservation Without Borders confirmed the death of one of the pilots, cameraman Dan Burton (54), who was filming the round Britain attempt.

"In the last stages of the Round Britain Climate challenge a major incident has occurred involving the lead and support paramotors on the expedition. The incident occurred in the Western Highlands of Scotland near Loch Na Gainmhich," said the trustees in a statement.

"We are very sorry to have to confirm that Dan Burton, the support paramotorist, has died as a result of the accident. Sacha Dench is seriously injured and is being treated in hospital. Her injuries are serious but not life threatening.

"Both highly experienced paramotorists, our thoughts are with the family of Dan Burton to whom we offer our sincere condolences.

"The incident was attended by police and medics and enquiries are under way to establish the details of the accident.

"The families have been informed. At this stage we would request that the privacy of the individuals and families involved be respected.

"Given these circumstances the Round Britain Climate Challenge is put on hold."

Rescuers found Ms Dench conscious at the scene. Tim Hamlet, leader of Assynt Mountain Rescue Team, said his 14-strong team concentrated on her.

'Human Swan' Sacha Dench was conscious at the scene, according to rescuers. Picture: Conservation Without Borders
'Human Swan' Sacha Dench was conscious at the scene, according to rescuers. Picture: Conservation Without Borders

"The casualties were on a round Britain flight raising awareness of climate change when unfortunately they apparently collided," he said.

"A hillwalker had witnessed the accident and raised the alarm.

"When we got there our people concentrated on helping her – she was in remarkable good spirits given the circumstances and conscious and talking to the team.

"We found a very busy accident scene just 400 to 500 feet from the road, but the co-operation from all the emergency services and other responders was phenomenal. I am very proud of the job our team did. Our sympathies go the to deceased's family and we wish the lady a speedy recovery."

Police Scotland confirmed the incident, saying in a statement on Sunday: "Police Scotland can confirm that a 54-year-old man has died and a woman has been seriously injured following a collision involving two paramotors yesterday [Saturday] afternoon.

"Police were informed about the incident near Loch Na Gainmhich by the A894 shortly before 4.45pm and enquiries to establish the full circumstances are ongoing.

"The next of kin of those involved have been informed."

Local Highland councillor Hugh Morrison said lots of people visit the area to see the Wailing Widow Falls – a spectacular waterfall that spills nearly 100ft over the cliff from Loch na Gainmhich.

"It is the main attraction of the particular area and it is tragic that there has been this fatality," said Mr Morrison, who represent North, West and Central Sutherland.

"There is a car park that people normally use to reach the falls but from the air it would have been very spectacular. It is just very sad this has happened.

The incident took place close to Loch na Gainmhich in Sutherland.
The incident took place close to Loch na Gainmhich in Sutherland.

"We are seeing more paragliders in recent years, especially in and around Durness. It just echoes the popularity of the NC500. I would like to pass on my sympathies to the pilot's family and friends and hope the woman makes a good recovery. It is shocking and upsetting this has happened."

Known as the "Human Swan", Ms Dench was attempting a 3000-plus mile circumnavigation of Britain flying a specially adapted, green electricity powered paramotor.

The biologist was attempting a Guinness World Record for the greatest distance flown by electric paramotor in a 30-day period as part of her Round Britain Climate Challenge.

Having lost her family home to Australian bushfires, Ms Dench conceived the expedition to help inspire and excite the nation, enabling people to get involved in tackling the climate crisis.

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