A paraglider has told of her brush with death after a near-miss with a huge military aircraft at 2,200 feet.
Kristianna Draper was cruising at altitude with a tiny paramotor on her back when the giant Airbus A400M thundered by her at 250mph.
It was so close – at less than 185m – she could see the pilot at the controls of the four turboprop engines – the most powerful made by Airbus.
The wake turbulence from the 45m-long plane could have crumpled Kristianna’s flimsy black and white glider, sending her spiralling to her death.
She avoided disaster by instinctively turning right and an official report said ‘providence’ played a major part in saving her.
The UK Airprox Board rated the incident in the skies above Andover, Hants, on July 18 as having the most serious degree of risk.
Speaking about it for the first time, Kristianna, 31, said she “cried and waited for her glider to collapse”.
She said: “It came so close that I saw the pilot – I could see the silhouette of his head.
“I didn’t have time to think about why he was there – all I could think was that I was dead.
“I turned away from the aircraft and thought that I’d had a good life, that this had been exciting.
“I always say it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
The David and Goliath encounter came as Kristianna trained with the British Paramotor Team ahead of the world championships.
A Notice to Airmen report had been issued informing pilots that the skies were being used by the paramotorists as a training ground.
Weighing just 30kg, the paramotor was cruising at around 20mph over Andover, powered by a 195cc engine and a single propeller encased in a metal cage.
Kristianna, who only took up the sport 15 months ago, said: “It was a beautiful sunny clear blue sky day with fluffy clouds.
“I’d been flying for about twenty minutes and was experimenting with a cloud that was ahead of me to try to catch a big column of air and see if I could stay up.
“I wasn’t paying attention to the sky around me, but I knew that this space was all for our own and only two paramotorists had taken off.
“I was going higher and higher with a big smile on my face – I was taking some selfies.
“On one of my circles, I was facing east and suddenly there was this huge roar.
“There was no anticipation or second thoughts – I didn’t see anything coming towards me.
“It was the scariest thing. I was immediately screaming and crying and panicked with no idea what to do.
“I said this was it, it’s all over and I’m going to die.
“I made a quick sharp turn to turn away from the aircraft and just waited to die.”
She added: “I know there are major propellers coming off the tips of the aircraft and if they’re close enough to you, you can get into their rotor stream.
“The rotor stream is the spiralling turbulent air coming off the tips of the ailerons and propellers of the aircraft.
“If a piece of fabric is floating in its path, it’s going to suffer a violent shake or ripple.
“If you get in that path there’s no way our flexible wings, which are just a piece of fabric, would withstand that turbulence.
“Any small aircraft is enough to collapse your wing and I don’t think I had a reserve on me.
“I was using borrowed equipment from someone else and not my normal equipment I fly with. I knew there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.”
She added: “I could have looked around a bit more, but with the speed it was travelling at it would have been a split second and I wouldn’t have been able to change my altitude.”
Miss Draper, from Toronto, Canada, was flying thermally for the first time – turning off her engine to use pockets of air to power her along.
She had been invited to train alongside the British national team by British Paramotoring Team member Francis Rich who organised the training weekend.
She added: “To turn off your motor and to let the wind carry you where it will is kind of risky.
“I was nervous that day but I was excited and I was going up higher than I normally go.
“After you get above a certain point the ground levels out and it gets isolating, it’s very quiet up there and spacious.
“I’m not scared of heights but it feels like you separate yourself from the world below.
“Sometimes it’s a great feeling but I like to stay low to the ground, touching stuff with my feet or skimming close to the water.”
The near-miss report said the military pilot did not take any avoiding action as “it was quickly apparent” she would pass down the left-hand-side of his aircraft.
Investigators concluded that both pilots “shared an equal responsibility for collision avoidance”.
The pilot of the A400M, which can carry 32 tonnes of cargo, was approaching Boscombe Down, an aircraft testing site in Wiltshire.
After the incident Kristianna was even more determined to fly and went on to win a silver medal at the World Microlight Paramotor Championships in Basingstoke in August.
The pilot, who has been travelling for the past fourteen years, added: “I was never happier than I was after I survived that day.
“The sun was brighter and the clouds were amplified.
“I was just so excited and I took more selfies and I had a big smile on my face crying tears of joy – my panic turned to ecstasy and I was so thrilled and I can’t wait to tell people.
“I was doing cartwheels and standing on my hands – I was so happy I immediately went and flew again.
“Flying is not only a personal passion and lifelong dream for me, but a way to show people what we are capable of.”
Kristianna gave up her successful wine business in Mexico last year and swapped it for exploring the skies and is looking to inspire more women into taking up the sport.
She added: “I want to be a living role model and lead by example, being visible to the public and inspiring women to push themselves to follow their hearts and break female misconceptions and reputations.”
Royal Air Force Command commented: “The most positive thing to come from this event is that the paramotor operators and Boscombe Down have now established communication such that they can increase awareness of possible conflicting activities in the future.
“Good communication should help inform other airspace users that activity could extend beyond the area indicated on the NOTAM warning.
“However, on the day, both aircraft were in Class G airspace and since the paramotor does not carry any electronic conspicuity equipment and they only rarely paint on primary radar, the only barrier remaining was see-and-avoid.”