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Casey Bedell

Bedell

A Missoula man, a husband, friend and co-owner of Black Bird Paragliding died last week after an accident during a paragliding competition in Chile, according to a notice from the Chilean Air Force.

Casey Bedell was in Santiago for the Pre Paragliding World Cup as one of 92 pilots, and news of his death spurred a public outpouring this weekend that celebrated Bedell for his passion for flight and supported his mourning family. 

"He left this world in flight, and if we keep him in our hearts, he will stay aloft forever," said local author Richard Fifield in one of many posts on Facebook. 

A Gofundme launched Saturday under the name Black Bird Warriors, with funds going toward easing the burden on Bedell’s family of the cost of bringing him home for a memorial. Donations amounted to more than $24,000 in less than a day, and those who want to contribute can follow the link at https://www.gofundme.com/f/memorial-fund-for-casey-and-care-for-jen.

According to the Gofundme page, no date has been set for Bedell’s memorial service. Through a friend, his family requested that news agencies give them time to gather and grieve before asking for further information. 

Bedell and his wife, Jen, opened Black Bird Paragliding in Missoula, which offers lessons in paragliding that culminate with a flight off Mount Sentinel. According to the company’s website, Bedell first started flying at Lake Tahoe in 2012 and had since flown across Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States.

According to the Chilean Air Force report, search and rescue workers rescued and stabilized Bedell on Nov. 28 before transferring him to a local care center. "However, despite the effort made by institutional personnel, and as a result of the seriousness of the injuries suffered, the American athlete died at the health center," the report said.

During multiple missions performed by the Chilean Air Force, the notice said personnel also rescued one other competitor from Colombia; the report was dated Nov. 29 and said the second competitor was receiving treatment. 

In a YouTube video posted in April, Bedell described the feeling of paragliding: the rush of adrenaline on launch, followed by settling into the flight.

“There’s freedom, there’s worry, there’s excitement and there’s accomplishment,” he said.

In a phone call Sunday with the Missoulian, Seth Warren, a local filmmaker and hang gliding pilot, said he wasn’t a student of Bedell's but considered him a mentor. 

“He brought a new life to the free flying community by opening it up to anyone who wanted to learn,” he said. “This is a huge a blow to that community.”

In October 2019, Black Bird Paragliding partnered with the nonprofit Project Airtime to take disabled Missoulians on free tandem flights off Mount Sentinel and throughout the Missoula Valley. A video posted by Bedell on his Facebook page in November showed him taking off with several Project Airtime passengers. 

"We're flying over Missoula," he said, holding a camera steady in one hand and guiding the fabric wing of the paraglider in the other. 

"No big deal."

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