Paratrike to the rescue: Flight of the Swans update

Sacha Dench preparing for take-off, Flight of the Swans expedition

After weeks of taking off on hard, uneven ground as she crossed the tundra Sacha was expecting a fairly straight forward take off from a field near St Petersburg on Saturday. Instead, an awkward stumble on her run up was followed by a moment of intense pain in her right knee.

‘My screams of pain were obviously heard quite some way away because, in true Russian style, an elderly couple appeared from the forest and filled my pockets with cranberries that they’d picked, apparently they are good for the health and healing,’ said Sacha.

Sacha Dench with a Russian couple who came to her aid when she injured her knee.

Sacha Dench with a Russian couple who came to her aid when she injured her knee.

Unfortunately, the healing cranberries didn’t work fast enough to get her back in the air on Monday and on Tuesday she had an MRI scan in St Petersburg, which confirmed a dislocated knee cap. She remained in good spirits, determined not to let the setback get her down.

Sacha Dench undergoing a MRI scan after injuring her knee during take-off.

Sacha Dench undergoing a MRI scan after injuring her knee during take-off.

‘The prognosis is as good as can be. I’ve not broken anything. Injury is always a risk for paramotorists, just as it is for the swans, and we just hope that it won’t hold me up for too long,’ said Sacha.
Doctors prescribed rest, six weeks was mentioned. Whilst Sacha reluctantly rested in St Petersburg the resourceful Flight of the Swans ground crew put their heads together to formulate a plan to keep the expedition on track.

She’s off again
The answer was a paratrike – basically a paramotor on wheels, which means Sacha can take off and land without putting pressure on her knee.

Sacha Dench takes off in her paratrike.

Sacha Dench takes off in her paratrike.

It’s a stroke of luck that Sacha’s flying partners, Alexander Bogdanov and Dan Burton, are experienced paratrike pilots and today (Friday) Sacha is flying again, in tandem with Alexander. Over the weekend she will learn to fly on her own on a trike that has been constructed for her using her own paramotor and the Flight of the Swans wing.

It will be quite a change for Sacha who has no experience of flying this way and for the ground crew who will now have to plan Sacha’s take off and landing spots very carefully. The trike can only land on an airstrip or in a large, flat field with no bumps, which means landing spots will have to be checked beforehand.

The Bewick’s arrive
The FotS media team have been patiently waiting at Rakovie Lakes and the Gulf of Finland to film the elusive Bewick’s. Finally they arrived, providing the team with their best footage yet of the swans during migration. The footage was shown at Bristol’s Wildscreen Festival alongside a live chat with Sacha, who had skyped in from St Petersburg to talk about Flight of the Swans.

Bewick's swans taking off over water.

Bewick’s swans taking off over water.

The footage of the swans bobbing gently on a lake as they refuel and rest after their long flight makes the matter of migration look easy. Yet many do get injured just like Sacha, and unlike Sacha they do not have a team medic, access to MRI scans or an alternative way to continue their migration and so for many it will be the end of their journey.

Two Bewick's swans on a lake, partway through their epic migration.

Two Bewick’s swans on a lake, partway through their epic migration.

All along the flightpath, the Flight of Swans team will be addressing the issues that prevent so many Bewick’s from completing their migration. This week WWT’s conservation team have been in Estonia meeting with the Baltic Fund for Nature and the Leningrad Regional Administration at Rakovie Lakes to discuss the future of Bewick’s conservation in the region.

And the swans?
Our tagged swans are making their way slowly but surely back to the UK. Daisy Clarke is in Lithuania and Leho is in Latvia, both having travelled over Estonia without stopping off. Both Maisie and Charlotte are taking their time. Maisie is now south-west of Arkhangelsk but Charlotte has obviously found something worth hanging around for and is still in Arkhangelsk.

Follow Sacha and the swans’ migration here 

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By Flight of the SwansFOTS and WWT logos

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