Kelvin van Baalen (22) is lucky to be alive. He spent 413 days in high care at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. Now, he speaks to YOU for the first time about the day he nearly lost his life.
He was taking part in paragliding competition in Barberton, Mpumalanga, on 29 June 2018 when the accident happened.
“I thought I was going to die,” says Kelvin, who’s from Johannesburg.
Paragliders need thermal air currents to reach and maintain altitude and on the day of his accident the air wasn’t warm enough for Kelvin to maintain his altitude.
“We needed to fly over a wooded area and I realised I wasn’t getting the altitude I needed. I was scared that I’d fly into the trees.”
Kelvin noticed a road passing through the trees and opted to land there.
“I couldn’t see the overhead power lines next to the road – because of the angle of my approach, I think. I also didn’t see the posts of the power lines.”
Realising he was headed straight for the power lines, Kelvin attempted evasive action in vain.
“I hit the power line with my hip, which sent current through my left leg and out my ankle.”
He was knocked out by the electric shock and hung unconscious in his paraglider’s harness.
“The sparks from the power cables started a fire in the grass. The only explanation I have for ending up on fire is that the heat of the flames melted the nylon ropes.”
Kelvin doesn’t know for how long he was unconscious but he knew he was on fire the moment he woke up.
“Adrenaline kicked in, I wasn’t in pain. My only thought was that I might die today,” he says.
He couldn’t walk but managed to roll away from the flames and crawled over to a tree where he hoisted himself up by his arms.
“The other paragliders passed overhead and I screamed for help. One of them saw me and dropped a WhatsApp pin.”
Paramedics stabilised Kelvin at the scene before he was airlifted to Milpark Hospital, where he’d spend more than a year. He’s suffered 80% burns over his entire body.
“I can’t recall much about those 413 days. Everything is a blur. I recall snippets, like my dad feeding me in bed.”
After he was discharged from hospital, Kelvin spent another two-and-a-half months in a rehab facility and he still receibes physiotherapy at home twice a week.
“I’m much better and I believe I’ll make a full recovery.”
He has two further medical procedures to undergo, including a skin graft to his hip.
With a long recovery still ahead of him, Kelvin can’t yet walk on his own or dress himself and is in a wheelchair.
“He needs help showering and going to the toilet,” says his mom, Leigh.
“I’m hoping to compete again by next year,” Kelvin adds.
Leigh says they’re planning a tandem paraglide at Hartbeespoort Dam for Kelvin’s 23rd birthday on 13 May.
“I think I’m going to need lots of wine to calm my nerves,” she chuckles.