Sacha Dench: who is the ‘human swan’, what happened in paramotoring accident, and when is Joanna Lumley programme on ITV?

Joanna Lumley and the human swan follows campaigner Sacha Dench as she paramotors around the country

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Actress Joanna Lumley followed an adventurer known as the ‘human swan’ around the country for a documentary about climate change, however the film was marred by tragedy.

Lumley travels around the UK with campaigner Sacha Dench as she takes to the skies with just her electric paramotor to attempt an epic journey around the British coast while raising awareness about climate change.

However, a member of Ms Dench’s support team, Dan Burton died in a mid-air collision, while Ms Dench was seriously injured.

Here is all you need to know about what happened and when Joanna Lumley and the human swan is on TV.

Who is the ‘human swan’ Sacha Dench?

Known as the ‘human swan’ people first became aware of Sacha Dench when she flew with endangered swans from Arctic Russia to England.

The film sees Lumley head to Scotland to meet Sacha, to see her green, clean electric paramotor in action and to hear about her latest challenge – to fly around the UK and arrive in Glasgow ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, being held there.

During the programme she follows by land, and, on one occasion, by air. Along the way the pair meet with people who show them ways to live more environmentally friendly lives.

Ms Dench had begun her climate challenge in June, taking off from Stevenston in North Ayrshire.

She said: “I could just do this in an ordinary paramotor, but to try to do it in an electric is a metaphor for the way we need to approach the challenges of climate change.”

Speaking about Ms Dench, Lumley said: “Of all the brave people I admire, few are braver than the airborne adventurer, Sacha Dench. Dubbed the human swan, she’s flown her tiny paramotor thousands of miles to help save a threatened species.

“Now, Sacha’s taking on the greatest challenge of all, the climate emergency. She’s ditching diesel for an electric motor to fly all around Britain. It’s so easy to wring our hands in despair, but, I promise you, if we all act together, it’s not too late to make a difference.”

At one point Ms Dench explains that in order to have enough battery power for each flight, the weight of the paramotor is 35kg. Then, once she is airborne, she will be able to ride on the winds like birds do.

Sacha Dench is known as the ‘human swan’.Sacha Dench is known as the ‘human swan’.
Sacha Dench is known as the ‘human swan’.

What happened during the paragliding accident?

On 18 September Dan Burton, 54, died in a mid-air paramotor collision in the Western Highlands of Scotland with Ms Dench, who was seriously injured.

Mr Burton died at the scene and Ms Dench was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to be treated for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Her family released a statement via the Conservation Without Borders charity, which was founded by Ms Dench.

It said:“Dan, we have taken great comfort in knowing that Sacha had your strength and support. You have become a part of our family and we will miss you.

“You lived life to the fullest.”

The statement continued: “To our Sacha, we love you dearly, you are a fighter, you are strong, you are brave get well soon.”

Mr Burton’s family also released a statement, paying tribute to their “beloved husband, son, father and brother” and saying their family is “utterly heartbroken”.

They said: “Dan was a very experienced pilot, a pioneer in technical diving and para motoring and a true adventurer.

“He was proud to support Sacha on her journey around the UK in an electric paramotor, to raise awareness about the inspiring action people are taking to tackle climate change.”

The statement added: “Dan’s life was dedicated to exploration and he believed there was no challenge that could not be overcome. He would want us all to continue the fight to protect our precious planet.”

Why did they decide to keep going and when is film on TV?

When the accident happened they had almost completed their 3,000-mile Round Britain Climate Challenge expedition.

Speaking about the accident and the decision to keep going with the documentary, Lumley said: “Both Dan’s family and Sacha, and everybody involved were so keen that we still got to tell this story and in time for COP26. Sacha remains in hospital and is being cared for brilliantly. Dan was such an exceptional man, he was so funny and so full of life and such an adventurer, such a huge personality.

“Ghastly though this accident was, and it’s unbearable for Dan’s family and for Sacha struggling with her colossal injuries in hospital, they were absolutely adamant that we went ahead with it. So that’s what gave me the courage to go on and to finish the film and to show it as they wished and as we longed to do.”

The programme, which is dedicated to Mr Burton will air on Monday (1 November) on ITV at 9pm.

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