By Tracy Correa
BAKERSFIELD – A crash by a paraglider into utility lines at a Kern County campsite knocked out power for a while and sparked a grass fire, but otherwise caused little damage thanks to the quick response of fire crews and two PG&E employees who happened to be camping nearby.
The incident unfolded just after 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 25) – and in front of a group of Boy Scouts – at Camp Okihi at Hart Memorial Park along the banks of the Kern River about 15 minutes from Bakersfield.
A man identified as Ray Schro was riding about 25 feet high in a motorized paraglider when he crashed. Luckily, Schro was not injured in the incident; it appears his parachute touched the lines, but he did not.
About 160 campers, most of them Boy Scouts and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, watched the crash from just across the river. The footage they captured was featured Thursday on Bakersfield television news station KGET 17.
Quick response from PG&E employees
What many viewers didn’t know was that PG&E employees Byron McArthur and James Kraucyk – who were part of the camp group – are credited with knowing how to respond and keeping everyone at the camp site safe. McArthur is a PG&E electrician and Kraucyk is a lineman. Both men work in Kern County.
“They were a tremendous help,” Russell Van Dyke said of his fellow campers. All three men are adult volunteers for the group of young men ages 14 to 18 who arrived at the camp site Monday and will stay through Saturday.
Van Dyke described a chaotic situation during which the two PG&E employees leaped into action making sure that all of the campers steered clear of the downed lines.
Camp leaders were meeting at the outdoor amphitheater when the crash happened. “People scattered in two different directions,” said Van Dyke. The lines fell down over the amphitheater and Van Dyke said at least one camp leader suffered a swollen lip and broke his sunglasses.
‘They knew what to do’
Because the downed lines fell onto the amphitheater with its wooden benches and metal railings, McArthur and Kraucyk made sure everyone stayed clear of the area. “They knew what to do,” said Van Dyke.
Within 30 seconds of the crash, McArthur was calling PG&E’s distribution operator’s office and Kraucyk was on the telephone with his supervisors. “But our main task was to clear every one away from the energized, downed power lines,” he said.
Kraucyk, who routinely provides PG&E’s educational, electric safety board demonstrations for the public and knows the dangers of downed power lines, said he was worried at the time. “We were lucky,” he said.
Fire crews quickly responded and put out the grass fire while PG&E crews safely secured the downed lines. And the 230 PG&E customers affected by the outage were restored just after 5 a.m. Thursday morning.
McArthur said his friends tease that he’s never off the clock, but he said he doesn’t mind it, adding: “I’m just glad we were there.”
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com