LEXINGTON, N.C. — What would you do if you were stuck 80 feet about the ground, upside down, in a glider that is leaking gasoline onto you — as the heat from a busted motor presses against your back?
Would you jump? Would you try and signal for help? Would you stay put and hope for the best?
All of these things crawled into Charlie Bowen’s mind on July 12, as he hung 80 feet in the air, upside down, in his leaking glider.
“I was wondering if I was going to die, or if someone was accidentally going to walk up on me,” the 63-year old Lexington father said. “I had a thousand things going through my mind.”
Bowen has flown various gliders for nearly four decades and has never crashed.
He’s lived with a daredevil’s mentality to, “seize each day,” and “live life to its fullest.” His mindset now is to spend the rest of his years on the ground with his family.
“In the back of your mind to think, is it going to happen again? I still have got a few years left on me, and I want to enjoy them,” he said.
On July 12, Bowen launched his trike glider from his friend’s horse farm just north of the Sapona Golf Course in Lexington.
It was clear skies that afternoon, with little wind interference.
The father was two minutes into his flight, around 100 feet off of the ground, when his engine suddenly stopped.
“It was going down and I did not have, but 10 feet to sink. I had to hit the tallest tree in there,” he said.
Bowen said the moment his glider hit the side of the tree it flipped upside down.
“The gas tank was leaking gas on me, and I thought, ‘I don’t know, am I just going to sit here and blow up?’” he said.
He could feel the heat from the failed engine on his back.
For 40 minutes he sat there, upside down, and tried to compose himself well enough to come up with a plan.
He tried to cut the parachute rope to use it to climb down but that wouldn’t work.
He tried to call for help, but no one could hear him.
After those 40 long minutes, he came to the only two decision he could come up with.
Climb on top of his glider and walk to the tree or jump to it and risk falling.
“I was about five feet away from [the] tree and I said, ‘Should I jump and try to get the tree, or try to walk the A-bar and get to the tree?’ I took the choice of jumping and getting a hold of the tree,” he said.
Eighty feet above the world seemed like 80 miles. But Bowen latched onto the tree for dear life.
The next step, climb down.
The only problem was there were no branches to grab hold of, and Bowen had on shorts.
“I was trying to shimmy down the tree and I got halfway down and the inside of my arms and the inside of my legs were just raw,” he said.
Halfway down the tree, he lost his strength and let go.
When he fell 40 feet to the ground, he broke his leg and his back.
For the next five hours, he laid there in pain, with hopes that someone would find him.
Around 5:30 p.m. Bowen’s wife called his phone, which he was able to crawl toward on the ground within the thick woods.
Rescue crews were able to triangulate his position and find him at the base of the large tree where his glider still sat.
His daughter Carlie said it’s a miracle her father not only survived, but kept his sense of humor through it all.
“I thank God every day he landed the way he did and he got out the way he did,” she said. “Because everyone has been saying it’s a miracle that he survived going from that far up.”