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Hang glide mishap won’t stop North Port man from soaring in Switzerland again

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By Scott Lawson

North Port Editor

NORTH PORT — It’s a bit like that tired cliché: After falling off a horse, you need to get back in the saddle.

Except, in this case, the horse was a hang glider and the near fall was about 1,000 feet to his death.

North Port resident Chris Gursky isn’t letting 2 minutes 14 seconds of life stop him from living the rest of his.

Gursky and his wife, Gail, were on vacation in Switzerland during October 2018. As a part of their vacations, they try to do one adventurous thing each time. Sometimes it’s a hot air balloon ride, other times it’s riding a zip line.

On Oct. 13, it was their first attempt at hang gliding. Gail Gursky left with her pilot first and had an amazing time.

Chris Gursky and his pilot left a few moments later — and it nearly cost Chris Gursky his life.

His pilot had not properly attached Gursky to the glider — and not properly attached means not attached at all. Gursky, 54, held on as the glider went dozens and then hundreds and then more than 1,000 feet above the ground.

The video of his struggle, which ends with him hitting the ground hard 134 seconds later, has nearly 10 million views online.

GOING BACK

Less than a year after the harrowing experience, Chris and Gail Gursky are returning to Switzerland.

“We’re trying to get our vacation complete this time,” Chris Gursky said recently. “The last time we went, the first day we had our accident. We’re going to do the things we wanted to do … a little traveling around the country and see the things we wanted to see.”

The entire trip is being paid for by the Interlaken, Switzerland tourism board, which took note of the couple’s first experience and “they’re trying to make it right,” Gursky said.

And, yes, this trip will include hang gliding.

“There’s two hang-gliding places in Interlaken. My wife still has some issues with the original one, so we’re going with the other,” he said.

His next flight hang gliding is set for Sept. 25.

He has no apprehension, he said.

“My wife keeps saying: ‘You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do this.’ I just say I really want to. I need to,” he said.

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SUN PHOTO BY SCOTT LAWSON

Chris Gursky, of North Port, speaks to media recently about his planned return to Switzerland in September where he hopes to hang glide. The viral video of his first hang-gliding experience, where he held on after not being properly secured to the craft, has been viewed nearly 10 million times online. He said the payday of going viral hasn’t made him rich.

He refuses to let what happened last year control what might happen next month. An injury he suffered as he gripped onto the glider is “a constant reminder.”

“My wrist is still tight,” he said. “The whole experience was something that I’m never going to forget because it was do-or-die.”

MEDIA ATTENTION

After he posted the video online, it went viral — so much so that he ended up working with online companies to manage the questions.

Still, more than eight months later, people still ask him about the experience, even at a recent celebration of life for a relative.

At its height, news crews from around the world were seeking his time. It caused tension with his work life and he left a longtime job in December.

“At first, it was incredibly overwhelming,” he said. “It was a distraction. It was a big distraction, but we’re taking it with a grain of salt now. Things have really calmed down now.”

As of Aug. 20, the video has been viewed 9.6 million times. Some days, it gets 2,000 or 4,000 hits; occasionally a spike will bring it to 20,000 when its promoted.

For those wondering if going viral online is a surefire way to get rich quick, the millions of hits doesn’t equate to millions of dollars. Thus far, he’s earned “probably five-figures” in terms of money, he said.

“It was just enough to keep me going since I was unemployed a week before Christmas,” he said.

Unemployment ended for him recently when he began his own business, CMG Home Inspections LLC based out of North Port. He has two business cards, one traditional and one less-so. The second features a screen shot of the hang gliding mishap with words and an arrow pointing to the man hanging by one hand with the words: THAT’S ME.

It is his way of getting back to work in the area.

But interest in what happened last year and what’s happening next is starting to pick up. Some media outlets are looking forward to doing a story about his next hang-gliding adventure, including “Inside Edition.”

OTHER ADVENTURES

Along with the hang gliding, they will have a rail pass, boat cruise on a the local lake, along with a trip up to “Jungfraujoch,” which translates roughly to Top of Europe.

Grindelwald and Zermatt, Switzerland are also on his list.

The couple have a few other adventurous ideas, including a zip line that goes about 80 mph.

“We might check that out,” he said.

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SUN PHOTO BY SCOTT LAWSON

Chris and Gail Gursky pose at their North Port home with their Australian shepherd Loco. Whenever they travel, they like to do a few things “out of the ordinary,” Gail said. “But we’re not adrenaline junkies,” Chris Gursky added.

There’s also a valley where people are hooked to a line, jump off a cliff and swing “like a pendulum,” he said. “I kind of like the looks of that.”

But he stresses he’s not a daredevil. He doesn’t believe in doing things that will likely cause him harm. He loves a thrill, but he isn’t trying to die.

“Daredevils are going to do things that are going to be life or death in just about every situation,” he said. “We like to try things that are regulated … nothing crazy. It’s not something we do all the time.”

He has never been critical about the first experience, saying in December his pilot had been flying for years and was registered to do tandems — which requires extra training.

“He was a good pilot, he just made a bad mistake,” he said at the time.

And Gursky said he’s “kept a positive attitude … I just wanted to take the high road and just move on.”

He still urges others to work to get beyond fear.

“If anybody has any apprehensions about doing stuff like this: Don’t wait. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you can’t do something like this. Live your life.”

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