In issue 146: Babu Sunuwar flies Kilimanjaro

Mad, bad or genius flying? Andy Pag tracked Babu Sunuwar down to his home in Pokhara in Nepal to interview him about his tandem flight from the summit of Kilimanjaro. Was he crazy, stupid or was it the spark of genius?

Babu Sunuwar snaps a self-portrait on the roof of Africa

Babu Sunuwar snaps a self-portrait on the roof of Africa

“Brave, not stupid.” Babu Sunuwar knows full well that his flight from Kilimanjaro attracted criticism from pilots around the world. A high-wind launch was followed by a big, cloud-flying flight with a passenger who had never flown before.

But, he calmly tells pilot and writer Andy Pag, in the March/April issue of Cross Country magazine, he knew what he was doing.

Wings of Kilimanjaro was an ambitious attempt at a mass climb-and-fly from Africa’s highest mountain. Well publicised, with a slew of permits and numerous high-level politicos in Tanzania backing it, 68 pilots and a dozen or so tandem pilots finally set off for the mountain in early February.

The dream was a mass launch, to float like butterflies from the near-6,000m summit to the plains of Africa below. The reality was brutally different: high winds, bitter cold, altitude, politics and a porter strike all took their toll.

The result was most of the pilots and passengers reached the summit – a fine achievement in itself – and headed back down.

Except for one man.

Babu Sunuwar, who in 2011 flew a tandem from the summit of Mount Everest, stayed up top.

When he launched it was in conditions most people wouldn’t even imagine possible. Expert high-wind aerial magician Mike Kung had already said it was a no-go and had descended. But Babu went for it, taking a Kilimanjaro guide along for the ride.

With no instruments, and after numerous aborted take-offs and crash-launches, he spent more than half an hour in cloud, flying only by shades of light and dark. At one point he looked down through a gap and saw the mountain below him.

After landing people immediately called him on the wisdom of what he’d done. Was he mad, taking off in winds that were touching a reported 100km/h on the summit? Was he bad for taking a non-pilot as a passenger? Or was he a genius pilot, applying knowledge of flying big mountains in big air that he has built up over years flying in the Himalaya?

Writing exclusively for Cross Country, Andy Pag tracked Babu down in his hometown of Pokhara in Nepal and invited him to sit down for an interview. The resulting story, the account of Babu’s flight through the rotor of a wind-blasted Kilimanjaro, sent shivers down the spine of the Cross Country team when it arrived.

Mad, bad, or genius pilot?

Out now in the March / April issue of Cross Country magazine.

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