Ultralight Pilot Dies at Hospital After Crash

A North Searsport businessman who crashed his ultralight aircraft into a stand of trees at the Belfast Municipal Airport last week has died of his injuries.

Elwyn "Red" Higgins, 66, died at Eastern Maine Medical Center at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton said Wednesday. Higgins, owner of Red's Cycles, suffered head and internal injuries as a result of the crash.

Higgins crashed into a grove of poplars seconds after lifting off from an abandoned runway at the airport at approximately 7:45 a.m. last Tuesday. His paraglider crashed into the trees and Higgins was left suspended in the craft about 50 feet from the ground. He was injured when he attempted to climb down from the tree.

Leroy Brown, a friend who witnessed the crash, said Higgins unfastened his safety harness and stepped onto a limb only to have it break under his weight. He fell to the ground, landing on his head and side. It was Higgins' "third or fourth" flight since acquiring the "Buckeye" paraglider earlier this year, Brown said.

Rescue personnel from the Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department arrived at the scene within minutes of the crash and stabilized Higgins while awaiting a LifeFlight helicopter. The helicopter transported Higgins to the hospital.

A paraglider is a parachute attached by lines to a three-wheel steel frame powered by a snowmobile engine. Before taking off, the chute is spread on the ground and then fills with air as the propeller behind the pilot spins. The craft gains lift as it is propelled down the runway. The parachute attachment is designed to keep the craft aloft and soften landings in the event the aircraft's engine stalls.

Chief Trafton said crashes of single-passenger ultralight aircraft do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. He said the department was checking with the state Attorney General's Office to determine how to officially classify the accidental death.

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