Paraglider comes back from the dead zone STEPHEN MCGINTY (firstname.lastname@example.org) IT IS called the death zone, the height at which jumbo jets fly and where the air is too thin to breathe. Encased in ice and unconscious after being sucked into the zone by a thunderstorm, German paraglider Ewa Wisnerska expected to die, she admitted yesterday. Click to learn more... But after blacking out at a height greater than Mount Everest and being pummelled by huge hailstones, Ms Wisnerska came to almost an hour later and piloted herself back down to safety. Her near-death experience happened on Wednesday in the Australian town of Tamworth, 170 miles north-west of Sydney, where 200 paragliders had convened for an international competition due to begin next week. They were on a routine training flight when a sudden storm front whipped up. The storm killed a member of the Chinese team, He Zhongpin, 42. He died from lack of oxygen and extreme cold. Ms Wisnerska, a member of the German team, tried to fly around the storm, but in ten minutes, the warm air and high winds whisked her to the zone where airliners fly, at 30,000ft. Mount Everest is 29,035ft. She was bombarded by hailstones the size of oranges and began to freeze as the air temperature dropped to -50C. The air was so thin that she could not breathe properly and passed out. Ms Wisnerska hung adrift for almost an hour before the paraglider drifted down to 22,700ft and, in the better air, she revived to find herself encased in ice. Ms Wisnerska, whose flight was tracked by her personal GPS and computer, was able to pilot herself back down to earth, and landed about 40 miles from her launch site. She was treated in hospital for severe frostbite to her face and blistering, but was released after an hour. She still plans to compete in next week's biennial championship. "You can't imagine the power. You feel like nothing, like a leaf from a tree going up," Ms Wisnerska said yesterday. "I was shaking all the time. The last thing I remember it was dark. I could hear lightning all around me." She described trying to skirt the thunderstorm and when that failed, repeatedly attempting to spiral against its lift. She eventually decided her chances of survival were "almost zero". She said she radioed her team leader at 13,123ft. "I said, 'I can't do anything. It's raining and hailing and I'm still climbing - I'm lost'. " However, fear turned to delight when she awoke and began to drift down. She recalled that she felt like an astronaut returning from the moon. "I could see the Earth coming - wow, like Apollo 13 - I can see the Earth," she said. Godfrey Wenness, one of Australia's most experienced paraglider pilots, yesterday said that Ms Wisnerska was extremely lucky. He said: "There's no oxygen. She could have suffered brain damage. It's like winning Lotto ten times in a row - the odds of her surviving were that long." This type of storm is relatively common in the Australian summer, routinely striking major cities with hail, heavy rain and destructive winds.