AS AN UP-AND-COMING REGULAR ON CBS's highly ranked daytime soap Guiding Light, Leonard Stabb, 29, who plays scrappy farmhand Hart Jessup, was primed for a further career ascent. Eagerly, publicists capitalized on the strapping outdoor enthusiast's sport of choice hang gliding—a source of dream copy, they figured, that would chronicle the soaring adventures of the suds stud who regularly glides with his auburn mutt, Girl, harnessed onto his back.

The airborne hobby would indeed create headlines, but sad ones. On July 31, an almost windless day at Ellenville Mountain Flight Park in the foothills of New York's Catskill Mountains, Stabb—without Girl aboard—crashed into a tree and was knocked unconscious. Late last week, while his mother, Linda, sat at his bedside, he lay in critical condition in Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., with severe head injuries. No prognosis was released by the hospital.

Stabb's gliding buddies were stunned by the accident. Hitting trees is a common mishap, says friend and fellow flyer Greg Black, who runs the Mountain Wings gliding school in Ellenville: "Nothing usually happens." A former model, the never-married Stabb has been gliding since he was 15, says Black, and "is one of the better pilots in the country. Very skilled. Never made a mistake." But Stabb's confidence led him to take risks. "He would always fly too close to everything—people, mountains—anything in his path," says Black. "We used to say, 'You've got to leave more room for error,' and he'd listen, then start overdoing it again."

On the set of Guiding Light, which Stabb joined seven months ago after a stint on One Life to Live, Sean McDermott is replacing Stabb—temporarily, colleagues hope. "Everybody is just numb, just hoping he pulls through," says castmate Frank Dicopoulos, who plays Frank Cooper. Black, for one, is sure that should Stabb recover, he'll suar once more. "Playing hard," says Black, "is in his blood."