A paraglider who was killed in an accident on Mount St. Helena Sunday died of multiple blunt impact injuries and was likely airborne for only a few minutes, a Napa County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Walden Grindle, 35, of St. Helena died after crashing his speed glider, a smaller version of a paraglider-type parachute, on the south slope of the mountain around midday. He was able to activate an emergency beacon and call his wife, the Napa County Sheriff's Office said, but rescuers found him dead when they arrived a short time later.
Grindle's speed glider was still attached to his body when rescuers reached him, said Sheriff's Office Capt. Tracey Stuart, who released results of an autopsy Tuesday. She said officials are speculating that Grindle was in the air for less than five minutes given there were no witnesses to the flight.
Grindle's close friend Adam Spicer said the man was a careful and judicious athlete who would have backed away from a launch had he had any concerns about the weather or terrain. He was an experienced skydiver, speed glider and "BASE jumper," an extreme sport that involves parachuting off of fixed objects such as buildings and cliffs.
"Walden was an expert in these sports," he said. "He certainly understood the risks; I don't think he was reckless."
State Parks spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Grindle did not have a permit to launch from the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial State Park, which covers the 4,300-foot peak and most of the surrounding slopes. Only members of the Sonoma Wings Hang Gliding and Paragliding club are authorized to launch off the mountain under a long-standing special event permit, she said.
Grindle or other individuals could apply for such a permit separately from the club, she said, but there was no record he had ever done so.
A person found using the park in an unauthorized manner, she said, would be advised to leave and could be cited by a state park ranger, though there is no permanent ranger station at this park. Looking back over records from the past 10 years, she said, there had been no previous reports of unauthorized gliding or parachuting.
Grindle was not a member of the Sonoma Wings club, President Greg Sugg said. The special event permit, which must be renewed annually, requires that gliders be club members or be accompanied by a club member.
Club members said Mount St. Helena is not a particularly dangerous mountain to launch from, but it does require some technical ability since the nearest safe landing spots are far away on the floor of Knights Valley.