Outspoken human rights lawyer broke both feet, his leg and two vertebrae
NASSAU, BAHAMAS- A relaxing birthday retreat ended in a terrifying brush with death for Attorney Fred Smith, who crashed into the Dolomite mountains while paragliding in the Italian Alps on Sunday.
Up some 9,000 feet, Smith and his instructor dangled on the side of a cliff for about a half hour before they were reached by hikers who held on to them until a rescue helicopter was able to airlift them.
Smith, 63, shattered and dislocated his left ankle, dislocated and sliced his right ankle and broken his left leg along with two vertebrae.
The attorney underwent surgery at a nearby hospital in Bolzano for some five hours, telling Eyewitness News Online only time would tell whether he would be able to dance freely again.
Smith said he was grateful to be alive.
His instructor did not fare as well, suffering crushed vertebrae and partial paralysis after their shoot collapsed sending the pair knocking against the cliff.
The instructor has had operations to his back, and was slated to go several more for his hand and arm, Smith said.
“This has not been my best birthday,” Smith said to Eyewitness News Online, “and it’s so beautiful up here. I’m beating myself up a little bit for having decided to paraglide. I wish I had just decided to do the hiking and the yoga and everything else.”
The prominent attorney took off to the Italian Alps for a peaceful getaway at a hotel in the mountains in San Cassiano. He lives in Grand Bahama, and was looking forward to returning to the country refreshed after experiencing Hurricane Dorian’s catastrophic impact.
“But you know the adventurer in me couldn’t resist the suggestion by the concierge that I also consider doing paragliding and white-water rafting,” Smith wrote in a wider statement. Smith said it was not his first time paragliding, noting he completed a trip over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil a few years ago with his daughters.
“It may have been the sudden thermal that collapsed our parachute and we free fell. We were blown hard against a cliff where we clung on.”
Smith said scenes from the Sylvester Stallone-led action movie Cliffhanger came to mind as the helicopter hovered overhead, lowering the two medics that packed them into tight body bags to be pulled away.
Cliffhanger was filmed at the same site in the Dolomite mountains, the Corrin del Pezzo.
“We were in shock and didn’t feel very much,” Smith continued.
“My tibia bone broke and was sticking out and my left foot was just bleeding and dangling nearly off.
“I have to admit that was a bit frightening! Thank God we had good helmets on!
His statement continued: “They were able to re-attach my ankle and foot to my leg by drilling two steel pins from under my heel up into my tibia that go up into my leg.
“The pins must stay there for 6 weeks then they have to them take out.”
The outspoken QC will need to remain horizontal for up to eight weeks as he cannot put any pressure on his broken vertebrae or feet.
He is expected to remain in hospital for another ten days but his greatest challenge will be preventing infection and necrosis of his exposed talus bone.
“As a result of the accident the talus was completely exposed and therefore may have gotten infected,” his statement continued. “So this is now a wait and see game in the short term. If the heal heels all will be good with just a substantial limitation in the range of motion. I will then only be able to do half marathons! If it does not heal then they will have to amputate my talus…more complications.”
However, Smith expects to be able to return to work using his phone and email once his condition has stabilized.
He thanked well-wishers for their kind messages for a swift recovery.