'I should be dead': Hang glider pilot's terrifying crash
EXCLUSIVE: "Oh God" were the last words Rhett Jeffcoat uttered as his hang glider started into a frightening spiral.
The 58-year-old was soaring over Yeppoon on a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon when suddenly he realised the left wing of his aircraft was in a vertical position.
He was up about 200 feet and looked to the ground, which was fast rising towards him.
The next thing he remembers is waking up, flat on his back, cocooned in his sail, a concerned stranger looking down on him.
From what's been determined from the crash scene and witness accounts, Rhett crashed on to the roof of one house and was dragged on to another, before falling from there on to concrete.
Incredibly, he escaped with multiple fractures in his ribs, wounds to his hand and elbow and bruising to his chest and face.
The experienced pilot is counting his blessings because he knows the outcome could have been very different.
He credits his full face helmet and the parachute on his chest which he failed to deploy with saving his life, and believes divine intervention was also at play.
"Let's praise the Lord because I think it is a bit of a miracle. I should be dead and I'm not even that badly busted up," Rhett said.
"My body is good. I was released from hospital within 24 hours, I passed all tests and was fully cleared.
"I've been up and walking, I'm out driving, I've been shopping. I'm back in operation, I'm just a bit stiff and sore.
"I'm really so sorry that at this time of year with all that we've been going through, people had to see me fall out of the sky and all be terrified and hurt by that experience.
"I want them all to know that I'm safe, I'm okay. I'm so grateful for the response and the amount of people who were around me in no time helping me.
"The care was top-notch all the way, I couldn't ask for better."
Rhett started hang gliding as a 17-year-old and flew until he married in his mid-20s.
He returned to the sport five years ago. Now based in Yeppoon, he clocks up about 350 hours a year at locations along the east coast.
He said conditions were ideal when he launched from The Bluff about 2pm on Sunday.
"I'd been flying for an hour and three quarters, sitting at about 350ft above sea level and about 150-200ft above ground level, when I heard something," he said.
"It wasn't a loud bang but I noticed a change in the flight of my glider. I looked to my left and noticed that my wing had gone vertical.
"I looked at the ground, I could see a house and a tree, and I was starting to spiral quickly towards it.
"'Oh God' was the last thing I said, believing that to be a prayer.
"The last I can recall is the wing letting go, the glider not flying anymore but descending, and the speed building up.
"The next thing I remember is being woken up by the owner of the property.
"He was asking me if I was all right. I did a quick check through my body and he can remember me telling him: 'I can feel my back, I can feel my legs'.
"It wasn't very long before the police were there, the paramedics were there, neighbours were there. I was surrounded by 15, 20 people helping me out, and I had someone holding my head the whole time.
"My initial impact was on my head, my chest and my left arm; without the full-face helmet I'd be dead.
"When you break a wing the glider spins very quickly and the g-force can black you out and I'm thinking that's what happened to me.
"It gave me no opportunity to deploy the parachute but that was a godsend because it's a great big cushion and it saved the impact on my chest when it hit the roof. It spread the load and only cracked my ribs instead of destroying them and destroying all my organs."
Rhett said this was the first major accident he had had in his years of flying, but it would not deter him.
"Not in the slightest," he declared. "I have too much of a love and a passion for flying and it's not going to stop me from wanting to fly one bit.
"It will probably take about two months before my body is really solid enough to think about flying.
"I want to be 100 per cent so it will probably be March or April at the earliest.
"When the people of Yeppoon see the white glider with blue trims, that will be me in the air again."