Family ‘devastated’ after man killed in paragliding crash with ‘human swan’ during round-the-UK record challenge

THE family of a man killed in a paragliding tragedy say they are “devastated" by his death during a round-the-UK record challenge.

Dan Burton, 54, died when he collided in midair with fellow paraglider, "human swan" Sacha Dench, who was badly injured in the smash.

Mr Burton was part of her support team as she attempted a 3,000-mile circumnavigation of the UK.

Today, Mr Burton's father-in-law, Dr Graeme Matthew, said from his home near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire: “Our family is devastated.

"We are distraught at out loss and it is an extremely difficult time for us."

Mr Matthew said he knew Ms Dench, but had not seen her for four years.

He added: “My thoughts are with Sacha and I hope she recovers from her injuries very soon. I just hope she will be okay.”

Dr Matthew is the father of Mr Burton’s wife, Caroline.

Ms Dench – a relative of Dame Judi Dench – was attempting to make the mammoth aerial journey when she collided with Mr Burton, and they both plummeted to the ground.

Support paramotorist Mr Burton was tragically killed in the accident, while Ms Dench, 43, is recovering in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, hospital with serious injuries.

The biologist, who is originally from Australia, gained her nickname after raising awareness of the plight of Bewick’s swans by flying from the Russian Arctic to the UK.

She also set a world record in 2016 by being the first woman to cross the Channel by paramotor.

A major incident occurred involving the lead and support paramotors.

The trustees of Conservation Without Borders said the accident happened in the western Highlands of Scotland near Loch Na Gainmhich.

In a statement at the weekend, they said: "In the last stages of the Round Britain Climate Challenge, a major incident occurred involving the lead and support paramotors.

"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 inquiries are under way to establish the details of the accident."


The statement added that the families of those involved had been informed and that the Round Britain Climate Challenge would now be put on hold.

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

Rescuers found Ms Dench conscious at the scene.

Tim Hamlet, leader of Assynt Mountain Rescue Team, said his 14-strong team concentrated on her.

"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 400-500 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."


Ms Dench and Mr Burton were in the final stages of their venture when they collided on Saturday.

They were aiming to fly around the country in specially adapted, green electricity powered paramotors ahead of the Cop26 conference due to start on October 31.

The machines meant they were able to take off and land anywhere to recharge.

The incident happened at about 4.45pm – a day after Mr Burton shared one final photo on Facebook showing picturesque hills near the village of Tongue in the Scottish Highlands.

And the location of the crash is said to have become popular with paragliders.

Hugh Morrison, councillor for North, West and Central Sutherland, said: "We are seeing more paragliders in recent years, especially in and around Durness.

"It is shocking and upsetting this has happened."

The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association said it would be undertaking a "formal investigation" into the accident.

A spokesman said: "We cannot speculate on the causes of the incident. The investigation report will be published in due course.

"The BHPA can confirm that both pilots were BHPA members and they were qualified to fly powered paragliders."

Miss Dench is known for global expeditions with migratory species but has turned her focus to climate change after losing her family home in Sydney to bushfires last year.

Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ranulph Fiennes have backed previous missions, including a flight over the Atlas mountains.

A Police Scotland spokesman confirmed Mr Burton’s death in a collision involving two paramotors. 

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