Joanna Lumley was hesitant to air documentary about 'the human swan'

Documentary about scientist dubbed the ‘human swan’ who was injured in a mid-air smash that killed one of her support crew WILL air, presenter Joanna Lumley says – after family of late flier insisted: ‘This is what it was for’

  • Sacha Dench, 43, plummeted from sky during her 3,000-mile journey around UK
  • Dan Burton, 54, who was in a separate paramotor died last month after the crash
  • Joanna, 75, had met with the scientist to film her upcoming ITV documentary 
  • The actress said that she initially wanted to ‘back away’ from broadcasting

Joanna Lumley has confirmed a documentary about a scientist dubbed the ‘human swan’ who was injured in a mid-air crash that killed a member of her film crew will air after it received the go-ahead from both families.   

After filming wrapped, biologist Sacha Dench plummeted from the sky during her 3,000-mile journey around Britain in a motorised paraglider after colliding with a member of her support crew. 

Dan Burton, 54, who was in a separate paramotor, died last month while Sacha, 43, who is a relative of Dame Judy Dench, remains in hospital after suffering serious injuries.

Joanna, 75, had met with the scientist to film her upcoming ITV documentary, Joanna Lumley and the Human Swan, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next week. 

In an interview with The Times, Joanna said that while she initially wanted to ‘back away’ from the project, both Sacha and Dan’s relatives urged her to broadcast the documentary next week as planned.

Dan Burton, 54, died last month after a horror mid-air crash near Unapool in the Scottish Highlands while working as a cameraman on a round Britain charity flight in a motorised paraglider

Joanna Lumley, 75, (left) met with Sacha Dench, 43, (right) before her horrific crash in which another flier died, to film her upcoming ITV documentary ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November

‘But Dan’s brave, brave family said, ‘Please! This is what it’s for’ and Sacha sent a message through her team from her hospital bed, saying, ‘For goodness sake show this film, this is why we were doing it”, said Joanna. 

The paragliders were in the final stages of a circumnavigation of the country as part of the Round Britain Climate Challenge when disaster struck near Unapool in the Scottish Highlands. 

Originally from Australia and now living in Bristol, Sacha is known for global expeditions with migratory species but has turned her focus to climate change after losing her family home in Sydney to bushfires last year.

Dame Judi and Sir Ranulph Fiennes have backed previous missions, including a flight over the Atlas mountains. For her latest challenge, Sacha was flying a specially adapted machine which enabled her to take off and land anywhere to recharge.  


Pictured left, Sacha with her adapted electric paramotor at Glasgow Science Centre. Right, Dan Burton preparing for a flight from Stevenson beach, on the west coast of Scotland 

Joanna, who lives in Stockwell, south London, said that the news was all the more difficult to hear knowing how skilled both Sacha and Dan were, adding that they always ‘put safety first’ while flying. 

‘It was hard to take the news on board, knowing how skilful they are’, she said. 

‘Like mountaineers, they always put safety first. They went through the checklist before every single flight.’

Elsewhere in the interview, Joanna also shared her thoughts on Insulate Britain, the environmentalist group which has become infamous for its ‘campaign of civil resistance’.  

Joanna said that while she herself would not join in on that type of demonstration, she can sympathise with the anger of those involved in the group. 

Biologist Sacha plummeted from the sky during her 3,000-mile journey around Britain in a motorised paraglider after colliding with a member of her support crew

 ‘You can understand why people get so infuriated they’re driven to do these difficult and horrible things to draw attention to themselves.’

Lumley is a keen advocate of the environment and animal welfare, having been a vegetarian since the 1970s, and earlier this week made headlines after claiming rationing could be the answer to climate change. 

The Absolutely Fabulous star suggested legislation is needed ‘for the sake of this beautiful Earth’.

‘These are tough times,’ she said. ‘We might even have to go back to some kind of rationing, where you’re given a certain number of points and it’s up to you how to spend them – whether it’s buying a bottle of whisky or flying in an aeroplane.’

Joanna, who has previously campaigned against single-use plastic, also said people should cut back on weekend breaks abroad and stop eating meat. 

Speaking to Radio Times, she added: ‘We’ve got to think that everything we do will make the place better – every plastic bottle you don’t buy, every piece of litter you pick up, every piece of meat you don’t eat. Every small thing counts.’   

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