Prosecuting an Owl-Kicking Paraglider
The paragliding community is spitting mad about a video that purports to show a paramotor provocateur chasing and assaulting an owl for nearly seven minutes. But how do you identify the guy?
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Many paragliders get into the sport because they want to experience the childlike bliss of flight. But in early April, a video surfaced on YouTube that showed a paramotorist, or “powered paraglider,” taking to the air with less than sublime results. (A paramotor is a standard paraglider set-up, but the pilot also carries a motor and propeller.) Although it’s since been removed from YouTube, a Facebook upload shows the pilot continuously chasing an owl for nearly seven minutes, and on multiple occasions appearing to kick the owl through the air.
The video is shot from the pilot’s helmet-mounted camera (and shows one other paramotorist nearby). The pilot has been identified by many in the paragliding community as Dell Schanze, a 43-year-old paramotor instructor from Salt Lake City and the owner of Flat Top Paramotors. Whoever posted the video to YouTube—presumably not Schanze—included a message identifying Schanze and saying that he should be held accountable.
The video includes a couple clips in which the noise of the motors is removed and dialogue has been overlayed, with the voice of the supposed pilot saying “Who’s the predator?! I kicked an owl’s butt!” The voice supposedly sounds like that of Schanze.
Furthermore, observers have noted a number of similarities between the owl-chasing pilot’s gear and those that Schanze owns. They also note that it appears the pilot’s hand is missing a finger – Schanze has a missing finger, as well.
After the video surfaced and a few Salt Lake City news stations aired stories about it, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources picked up the case, shortly thereafter transferring it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Tom Tidwell, the resident agent in charge for U.S. FWS field operations in Colorado and Utah, says its investigation has positively identified the pilot from the video, but would not share his identity because the case is still open.
“The person responsible has violated at least two laws: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Airborne Hunting Act,” says Tidwell. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to prosecute.” He says the case should be coming to a head in the coming weeks, and notes that these laws are enforced with “significant fines and up to a year in jail.”
The YouTube video was taken down on April 9, with a notice saying “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Dell Schanze.” Critics of Schanze say this clearly points to his guilt.
But couldn’t whoever posted the video to YouTube have also posed as Schanze when he or she requested it be taken down, in order to implicate Schanze? Tidwell says it doesn’t matter, one way or the other. Nor does it matter whether the voice-over in the video is Schanze or someone else.
“The voiceover doesn’t prove anything,” he says. “We found other ways to confirm who is in the craft.” But, again, he would not confirm whether that person is Schanze.
Though some of his friends are fierce guardians of Schanze’s reputation, he is known for a string of paragliding faux pas—what opponents call “reckless activity”—including jumping off buildings and a landmark in Oregon, that have resulted not only in legal trouble for Schanze but, they say, harm the reputations of all paragliders and paramotorists.
Jeff Goin, the founder and president of the U.S. Powered Paragliding Association and author of paramotoring guides, maintains a website called PPGTruth.com, which details the concerns he and other PPG pilots have with the World Powered Paragliding Association, a group that Schanze founded and leads. Goin claims the World Powered Paragliding Association is merely a means for Schanze to promote his company and sell his Flat Top Paramotor equipment and instruction services. Goin directly competes with Schanze (and vice versa) in that they each run paramotoring competitions and organizations. (Goin isn’t the only detractor, but he is one of most visible.) Another website, Flattopparamotors.com is fully dedicated to outing Schanze for bad behavior, but its creators are anonymous.
The feud between pro- and anti-Schanze pilots also plays out in two Yahoo groups, PPGTruth (pro) and PPGTruth-Unlimited (anti). (Who knew the world of amateur paragliding was so fraught?)
Schanze did claim in a paramotoring forum post from 2011 that he chased and “caught” a hawk. He was commenting on a film showing a tandem paragliding team in Nepal in which a handler feeds a trained raptor during flight.
Schanze, who calls himself “Super Dell,” has a colorful legal history and a strong dislike for media. This story from Utah TV station KLS delves into his litigious missteps, resulting in various lawsuits and an assault charge. In 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration fined Schanze for flying too close to a boat on the Great Salt Lake. Around this time he also ran for Governor of Utah. He also made unsuccessful bids for the mayor’s office of Salt Lake City and Saratoga Springs, Utah.
Reached by phone, Schanze said, “It was not my video. That was a hacked video made by a competitor. I’ve never kicked an owl.” He then added: “If you write an article implying that it was me, I will come after you.”