Indian officials arrested two American paragliding pilots on March 16 in the state of Sikkim after they flew over the border from Nepal, according to The Telegraph. The arrest is a matter of improperly obtained permits, and it could have serious consequences.
American pilots Brad Sander and Eric Reed were attempting to complete a paragliding traverse of the Himalayas, a trip that they started last year. Reed was the US paragliding champion in 2003. Sander has flown higher than anyone in Pakistan and further than anyone in Asia. The dream trip turned into a bit of a logistical nightmare after the two landed.
Here are the preliminary details as compiled from a news report and blog posts. Authorities arrested the team because they need to log in at a checkpoint and get a permit known as an ILP in order to come over the border. Sikkim doesn't have a checkpoint. Two locals told the paragliders they would file the ILP permits for them in a different town and deliver them in Sikkim. The two Indians applied for the ILP permits in a town called Rangpo, saying the Americans would come through that area of the country, rather than Sikkim. Those two local paragliders were arrested for abetting because, in short, the Americans crossed the border over an area their permits did not cover. If the Americans are convicted, they could face two to eight years in prison or large fines, according to the Himalayan Times.
“We thought that [our permits] were arranged. The local police and the local people in the area were welcoming to us. It was maybe one, higher up person in the police who [has driven this],” said Sander. “Basically, this was a misunderstanding … 95% of people we are talking to don’t think we should be prosecuted.”
The border of Sikkim is a guarded line that butts up against China, Bhutan, and Nepal. A report on the Himalayan Odyssey blog, which is tracking the expedition, states that bail has been set at $2,200. The paragliders are expected to be released on bail today, but must remain in Sikkim until the trial.
“The trial will hopefully happen this week, but it might be a month,” said Brad. “At this point things are still up in the air.”