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Searches Continue for Overdue Pilot and Missing Paraglider

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An experienced San Luis Obispo paraglider has been missing since Jan. 28 when he took off from an ocean bluff at Montana de Oro State Park in Los Osos for what he expected to be a brief flight.

About 100 volunteers continue to search each day by air and over rugged ground in San Luis Obispo County for Peter Rejlek, a paraglider for four years whose 35th birthday was Saturday.

“As long as there’s even a 1% chance he’s alive, you still have to look,” said Marina Chang, 31, a friend and fellow paraglider who, like Rejlek, belongs to the San Luis Obispo Soaring Assn. “You don’t leave a fallen comrade. That’s why we’ve been searching every day.”

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department has ended its search, but, said Sgt. Pete Hodgkin: “His friends are still looking for him and if and when they develop anything viable, we certainly are willing to go off and participate.”

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The Sheriff’s Department also has an investigator assigned to the case because Rejlek is technically a missing person.

Chang described Rejlek as a rugged outdoorsman who loved to paraglide, ride a mountain bike and ride his Arabian horse in the hills.

“He’s one of those people who is into a simplified lifestyle,” Chang said. “He’s a vegetarian. . . . He doesn’t watch television. The only newspaper he reads is the Wall Street Journal.”

Recently laid off from his real estate appraiser’s job at a bank, Rejlek was studying to be a real estate agent. But he went paragliding “every moment that he could,” Chang said.

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Rejlek took off on his magenta paraglider from the bluff on the afternoon of the 28th. Because he was expecting a short flight over the ocean, he didn’t take any emergency equipment with him, according to one friend.

But, according to the eyewitness accounts of other gliders, as he took off, he ran into an air convergence--a lift of air created by two opposing air masses--which picked him up and carried him inland.

“Our last sighting was at 4:50 in the hills of Arroyo Grande and we think he was going for a distance record,” Chang said. “He had plenty of opportunities to land, but he was just going for it. He was doing something that he loved and he was going the distance.”

His friends believe he landed safely but may have injured himself on his way out of harsh territory.

Although Coast Guard and Sheriff’s Department personnel searched in the first few days, friends and other concerned residents make up the approximately 100 people who continue to search by air and comb rugged canyons.

Most searchers have emerged with little more than cases of poison oak.

“He’s been through survival classes and knows how to survive in the wilderness,” said June Cunningham, a friend and a private plane pilot. “He’s a tough young man.”


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