Floating 2,000ft above the ground, you have to be prepared for any eventuality.

But when a flock of angry eagles attacked, British paragliding champion Nicky Moss didn't know what had hit her.

Trying desperately to fight off the onslaught of razor-sharp beaks and talons, she plunged 500 terrifying feet in a few seconds before managing to regain control of her glider.

"Luckily I was wearing a helmet or I would have been in very serious trouble," she said last night, safely back on the ground.

"Because I had to hang on to the glider I could not use my hands to ward them off so all I could do to protect my face was to force my head down against my chest and hope that they didn't get to my eyes.

"I thought I was dead meat. They were ferocious."

Miss Moss, 38, a member of the British Paragliding Squad, was taking part in a competition in Queensland, Australia, when the wedge-tailed eagles swooped on her.

Last night an Australian paragliding official said eagle attacks were "fairly common". They regard the paragliders as birds threatening their domain.

Miss Moss, who lives in Barcelona, gave up her work as a chartered quantity surveyor on building sites across Britain in 2002 to concentrate on paragliding.

She has visited Australia several times and three years ago won the Australian Women's Open.

She has also won three other international women's competitions in Portugal, India and Spain.

Dave Thompson, a technical officer for the British Hangliding and Paragliding Association, said: "It's not uncommon for paragliding pilots to come into contact with birds. That's especially true of big birds of prey. We fly using the same currents to stay up as they do."

It is the second time Miss Moss has had a close call in Australia.

In February last year, her canopy failed to unfurl and her reserve chute also malfunctioned. She landed in a tree.