From Durban to Zurich in a light aircraft

The pair made their perilous journey from South Africa to Switzerland in an ultra-light aircraft. www.luftsafari.ch

There are easier ways to travel from southern Africa to Switzerland, but one Swiss couple opted to do the journey the hard way - in an ultra-light aircraft.

This content was published on November 8, 2003 - 12:06

To add to the challenge, the pilot only learnt to fly just before they set off.

Zurich-based Remy Scheidegger and his co-pilot, Patricia Glauser, who made a documentary of the journey, planned the trip - called Luftsafari - for two years. For Scheidegger, the trip had been a life-long dream.

But despite the forward planning, Scheidegger decided to leave one of the essential preparations until last.

“I learned to fly when I arrived in South Africa. It took six weeks, working day and night, it was very tough,” he told swissinfo. “I don’t think anyone else has tried to do the pilot licence then straight away go on a trip like this.”

After setting off on May 15, the pair made their way up Africa and across to Europe, stopping off at 14 countries, including Namibia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Egypt, Greece and Italy. They finally touched down in Wildberg, near Zurich on October 12.

Tough challenge

Both Scheidegger and Glauser agree the trip far exceeded their expectations, both good and bad.

“We knew it would be hard, but we didn’t think it would be that hard,” Scheidegger said. “All the time we were at our very limit.”

“But although we were worried many times, we never thought about giving up,” Glauser added.

They said the worst points were when Scheidegger had malaria, which he caught twice in Zambia, and had to be admitted to hospital.

Another tough time was when they flew over the border from Eritrea to Kassala in Sudan, through an area where rebels regularly shoot down small aircraft.

Although forced to fly low through the area due to bad weather, they passed over the border without incident.

Glauser and Scheidegger stress they felt more threatened by the weather than by the local people.

“The weather in Africa is much more dangerous than people are,” Scheidegger said. “It can turn bad all of a sudden and we can only fly in good weather.”

High points

One of the best things about the journey, they say, was the flying itself, which allowed them panoramic views of the changing African scenery.

But they were also taken back by the amount of support they received during their journey.

“Whenever we got into really difficult situations and thought we wouldn’t be able to go on, somebody came along and helped us out,” Scheidegger told swissinfo.

“And it was only because of these people we managed to complete the trip,” added Glauser.

Charity work

When their trip began to attract media attention, Scheidegger and Glauser decided they should take advantage of the publicity and use it to raise money for charity.

They chose the Elfinesh project, run by a Swiss man and his Ethiopian wife, which works to supply basic amenities to a small community in Ethiopia.

They stopped off at the community to see the charity project with their own eyes.

“We were sure that with this charity the money was going straight to the people,” Scheidegger said. “It’s not used up in administration costs.”

Now the trip has been successfully completed, the couple have begun collecting money for the charity.

They are also setting about making a documentary and writing a book on their trip.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

Key facts

Remy Scheidegger and Patricia Glauser set off from Durban on May 15.
They stopped off in Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, France and Germany.
They landed in Wildberg near Zurich on October 12, two months later than planned.

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