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Pilot critically injured in Calverton powered paraglider crash

Riverhead Town police officers check a paraglider Sunday

Riverhead Town police officers check a paraglider Sunday morning, March 1, 2015, after it came down in Enterprise Park at Calverton. Police reported the pilot, Marcelo Ibarra, 49, of Shirley, was in critical condition. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A Shirley man was critically injured Sunday when the powered paraglider he was flying crashed at Enterprise Park in Calverton, authorities said.

Marcelo Ibarra, 49, who possibly suffered two broken legs, was airlifted by the Suffolk County police medevac helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital, Riverhead police said in a statement.

Police said the professionally made powered paraglider crashed about 8:20 a.m. after takeoff from the town-owned corporate park. It has an active airstrip and was a manufacturing and test site for Grumman Corp. military aircraft.

No criminal charges have been filed, but the probe of circumstances surrounding the crash is continuing, police said. Town and police officials are expected to discuss the investigation Monday. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter declined to comment.

Powered paragliding is a form of ultralight recreational aviation in which a pilot wears a motor on his back. The motor provides the power for liftoff using an adapted paraglider wing as a kind of parachute.

It can be launched in still air and on level ground, making it ideal in flat regions. Operating a powered paraglider doesn't require a license.

Federal Aviation Administration investigators were called to the scene by police. But the aircraft was not required to be registered and thus the crash did not come under FAA jurisdiction, the agency said.

"The FAA responded to the scene and confirmed the vehicle was not a registered aircraft," spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

A man at the scene said he witnessed the accident. The self-described friend of Ibarra's and fellow paraglider declined to identify himself while being interviewed by authorities. Riverhead police also declined to identify him.

The man said one side of the craft's wing collapsed, rendering it unstable, and Ibarra put his feet out to absorb the impact of the crash.

After the accident, "He was conscious, I went to him, took off his helmet, asked him a couple of questions," the man said.

Philippe Renaudin, a Long Island paragliding instructor who is getting advanced certification in powered paragliding, said motorized and nonmotorized types of the sport are taking off nationwide and regionally. He said only extreme lovers of the sport fly in winter.

"You have the hard-core pilots who are addicted to flying and every opportunity they have to fly, they will take," he said.

Winds in Calverton at 8 a.m. Sunday were about 1 mph.

Renaudin said he knows Ibarra from the paragliding community, and said he's a competent pilot, though relatively new to the sport.

"All I hope is that he will be walking again," he said.

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