After a paragliding crash outside of Moab, he learned to take flight again

A new short film, “Back to Normal,” documents Ian Mitchard’s recovery.

As Ian Mitchard lay in a hospital bed in Salt Lake City, unsure if he would ever skydive again, he turned to others’ recovery stories for hope.

Optimism wasn’t something his doctor could provide — he’d never seen injuries like Mitchard’s before. But Mitchard wasn’t ready to give up. “There’s this thing about hope,” he said. “… If you don’t have it, then it can make everything different in terms of your recovery.”

While paragliding alone from Castleton Tower in January 2019, a strong wind and an incomplete turn caused him to crash into the ground. “I could tell that something was extremely wrong … It was like a 12 out of 10 pain,” he said.

While Mitchard adhered to his doctor’s recommendations for healing, he said he never listened to predictions about what he might be able to do again. Less than a year later, he was back in the air.

Humble beginnings

Mitchard was first introduced to skydiving when he was in college. “I never really knew it was a sport,” he said. “I thought it was just this thing you do one time.”

That quickly changed. Soon, the pursuit of airborne adventure was the guiding force in his life’s trajectory.

He first witnessed wingsuit BASE jumping in 2006, but he wasn’t interested. “I was like, ‘that seems really crazy,’” he said. “I didn’t really want to do it.”

Today, he considers this reaction naïve. Two years later, in 2008, he jumped from the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. “It kind of consumed my life from then until … 2018,” he said. “…[It was] a full decade of me just chasing it.”

Mitchard’s love for flight led him across the world to destinations in Asia and Europe, and then to a career as a tandem skydive instructor in Arizona and California.

In 2014, he followed his now wife, professional climber and BASE jumper Steph Davis, to Moab. They were married in December 2018.

The accident

After crashing into the ground beneath Castleton Tower, Mitchard lay in excruciating pain for several hours, waiting for a helicopter to reach him. “My legs had basically gone straight through my feet and hit the ground,” he said.

He was first transported to Grand Junction, Colorado. “They looked at my X-rays and they just had absolutely no idea what to do,” he said. He had also fractured his back. He was then flown to Salt Lake City, where doctors opted to perform surgery as quickly as possible.

When he returned to Moab a month later, Mitchard purchased a hand-powered bike, gaining freedom for the first time. To get groceries, he attached his wheelchair to the back of the bike and pedaled to Moonflower Community Cooperative, where he would transfer into the wheelchair to move around the store.

One time, he made it home before realizing something was missing. “I looked back and the wheelchair wasn’t there,” he laughed.

As he began his recovery, a friend advised Mitchard to “make something of it.” He took the advice, and began teaching himself web development and coding, subjects in which he’d always been interested.

He also began to find ways to spend time outside. He began kayaking, a sport that didn’t require him to use his feet. He soon built up to swimming, and then mountain biking.

By summer, his new tech skills and prior training in nursing landed him a job at Moab Regional Hospital as a clinical informatics specialist. It was a good fit at the time, “but being inside was just not my forte,” he said.


Eleven months and 14 days after his accident, Mitchard performed his first BASE jump. In an Instagram caption documenting the flight, Michard wrote, “the mind leads the body and I’ve been visualizing this since January.”

Though impressive, it wasn’t his ultimate goal — he wanted to wingsuit BASE jump again. That, he said, was what he imagined doing when he was in the hospital. But he knew it would be a difficult feat to accomplish, requiring a long uphill trek and the use of his feet during flight to keep the suit expanded.

And, he added, the conditions for flight had to be just right. With his injuries, hiking downhill is “extremely painful,” so it was important to avoid any chance that he might have to hike back down.

In 2022, Director Timmy Summers and Producer Desmond Clancy teamed up to document his first wingsuit BASE jump since the accident. The result is a short film titled “Back to Normal,” which was released on KAVU’s YouTube channel Jan. 31.

In the film, Mitchard returns to the Castleton Tower area for the flight. “I started to kind of question what I was doing there,” he said. “But eventually I convinced myself to not really think about it too much, knowing that when I pushed off, I would know what I’m doing. And that’s exactly what happened.”

As soon as he pushed off the cliff, “everything started clicking again. It just felt like I was home.”

A non-linear recovery

Despite his relatively rapid return to sports, Mitchard struggled to reach his ambitious goals. “My recovery has not been linear,” he said.

He said that before the filmmakers arrived in Moab, he was having a particularly hard time. He felt that his recovery had reached a plateau. “It’s just been sometimes a big jump. Sometimes there’s regression.”

He said he hopes the film will reach someone else like him — “who is struggling and being told that they’re never going to do something that they wanted to do in life” — and find encouragement.

He said he finally feels like he is “back to normal.” In 2021, he returned to work as a tandem skydiving instructor part-time. This month, he returned full-time.

He said that though small aspects of the job used to grate on him, he now has a different outlook. “It was taken away and now I fought to get it back,” he said. “I have a different perspective. I just really enjoy it.”