Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut December 11, 2012 - 8:22 am

Nunavut court raps Aussie daredevils with $500 fines for paraglide stunt in Nunavut park

“They indicated they were unaware of the regulations, but they recognized that they should have been aware.”

DAVID MURPHY

Thrill-seeking tourists beware: you cannot paraglide off the planet’s largest vertical drop, Mount Thor in Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut.

Three Australians found that out the hard way, by getting caught red-handed in June at the national park, 46 km from Pangnirtung, for doing just that.

Paragliding is an adventure sport where a horizontal parachute carries people through the air for hours on end.

Now the three have to each pay a $500 after pleading guilty Dec. 10 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit to section 24 (2) of the Canadian National Parks Act.

Australians Chris Fitzgerald, 27, and Christopher Warner, 34, both of whom live in Australia, have already paid their $500 fine through their bail.

Nathan Kukathas, 30, of German descent, lives in Victoria, B.C., but has yet to pay.

Crown prosecutor Leo Lane and the defence lawyer acting for all three men, James Morton, said a $500 fine is appropriate.

That’s because the trio said they were ignorant of the fact that paragliding is forbidden.

“They indicated they were unaware of the regulations, but they recognized that they should have been aware,” Morton said in court Dec. 10.

But visitors to the park received an extensive two-hour mandatory orientation that informs them paragliding is strictly prohibited.

Lane said parks officials in Auyuittuq spotted the adrenaline junkies gliding down the 1,250 metre drop and afterwards questioned them.

The parks staff recognized the tourists from a briefing they held before a hiking trip.

Parks Canada’s external relations manager for Nunavut, Gary Enns, said the regulations for paragliding are in place because of the risk involved in a remote, “active landscape” like Auyuittuq.

“I’ve had people describe seeing boulders the size of cars being swept down a river stream that they were crossing just an hour earlier. When you add paragliding into that, with just the inherent risk, it’s [dangerous],” Enns said.

Enns said rescue efforts — if someone were to injure themselves in the park — could cost over $100,000. And upwards of 600 people visit the park every year, he said.

This isn’t the first time that daredevils have made headlines in Auyuittuq National Park.

In 2011 three base jumpers leapt off Mt. Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park, and were subsequently charged under the Canadian National Parks Act.

The three base jumpers, who made a documentary about their experience called the Asgard Project, had to give $1,000 to a Parks Canada charity, and make apologies to climbing magazines and film festivals where their film won awards.

An Australian base jumper also died in Sam Ford Fiord near Clyde River in 2010.

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