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Fatal hang-gliding plunge prompts lawsuit

VANCOUVER - The parents of a young woman killed in a hang-gliding accident in B.C.'s Fraser Valley have filed a lawsuit alleging that gross negligence led to the woman's 300-metre plummet to her death.

Lenami Godinez Avila, 28, died in April 2012 during a tandem flight that had been arranged by her boyfriend as an anniversary gift to her.

The lawsuit seeks damages from pilot Jon Orders, his partner and several groups associated with the sport.

Orders, 51, was convicted of criminal negligence causing death by a B.C. court and was sentenced to five months in jail in February. The judge said the pilot should not have missed several fundamental steps during a pre-launch safety check.

The court determined she fell because her harness wasn't hooked to the glider. Video footage presented in court showed the woman clinging desperately onto Orders and the hang-glider as he attempts to clip her in, but she slipped off and fell.

Orders had also been charged with obstruction of justice after he admitted to swallowing the video camera's memory card, but that charge was later dropped.

Also named in the lawsuit are the pilot's partner, Shaun Wallace, The Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, British Columbia Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, the West Coast Soaring Club and others.

"The defendant, Orders, launched the hang-glider when he and/or the defendant, Wallace, knew or ought to have known Lenami Godinez was not secured safely to the hang glider and/or at all," the lawsuit alleges.

The action, filed by the woman's father Miguel Godinez Villegas and her mother Herlinda Avila Ramirez, claims that before their daughter's death she "experienced conscious pain, suffering, shock and terror."

After Orders was sentenced earlier this year, Godinez Villegas said the court didn't go far enough and the sentence was light.

The civil lawsuit, which asks for general and aggravating damages, contains allegations that have not been proven in court. The defendants haven't filed statements of defence.

It alleges Orders, Wallace and their company Vancouver Hang Gliding, failed to follow safety procedures or conduct a pre-launch inspection, including a "hang check."

It singles out the hang-gliding associations for negligence, alleging the organizations failed to ensure proper training and safety standards for commercial operators, failed to inform the public of basic safety requirements and failed to protect the public's safety because they didn't have an adequate system for pre-flight inspections.

"The defendants ... knew or ought to have known of the reasonable possibility of causing severe physical harm to persons such as Lenami Godinez by their actions and/or inactions. This demonstrated a callous disregard for public safety," the lawsuit claims.

During Orders' trial, his lawyer told court that his client was distracted by many things before the launch, including an argument with his assistant earlier in the day.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brian Joyce said Orders was a well-trained and experienced pilot who was expected to work through distractions.

"Connecting Ms. Godinez-Avila was a fundamental step in the procedure, not a minor step that should be overlooked because of these kinds of distractions," Joyce said.

After Godinez Avila's death, Orders apologized to her family and friends. He said he was sorry again before he was sentenced.

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