Omaruru GuesthouseAugust 28, 2012
River Guest House – OmaruruAugust 28, 2012
by Marita van Rooyen
A team of paragliding pilots from South Africa and Namibia made history with a first-ever and first for Namibia paragliding jump in aid of children with physical disabilities.
The team of seven made the jump with their paragliders from the basket of a hot-air balloon. The team, which was approved by Namibian Civil Aviation, consisted of Chris Lötter, Linda Willemse, Walter Neser, Chris (Fester) van Noord, Gerrit Lambert, Karel Koster and Jaun Burger, and was appropriately called the “Gat Oor Kop Bollemakiesie Span”, after the risky move done in mid-air. The aim of this daring manoeuvre was not only to prove that extreme sports are not limited to those without disabilities, but also to raise money and awareness for children with amputated limbs and other physical disabilities. The team was joined by balloon pilot, Rob Lowson, a South African with a passion for flying, who described the flights over the Namib as his ‘most spectacular flights ever’ and the occasion ‘as inspiring’.
Jump for Joy
The inspiration for this event came from the former Namibian, Jaun, who lost his leg in a skydiving accident about six years ago, but still enjoys the sport he loves. Jaun is seen as inspiration for children with disabilities, and especially those with physical challenges and amputated body parts, as he continues to participate in extreme sports in spite of his disabilities. Hence the Jump for Joy fundraising campaign was launched, in conjunction with Windhoek Round Table Nr 34, to inspire individuals and businesses to contribute to the fund that is dedicated to needy children with amputated limbs.
As Linda states, “We are on a mission – Jump for Joy in aid of children with disabilities by doing paragliding balloon drops over the Namib Desert.” She adds, “Chris Lötter and myself were privileged enough to have arranged the first-ever paragliding balloon drops over Namibian soil. Our dream of launching ourselves out of a hot-air balloon with our paragliders over the Namib was great. But the dream became much better once we decided to use this special event to raise money for children with disabilities.” Namibia is one of the many African countries that have landmine victims. Sadly many of these are children, some of whom are orphaned and face physical challenges because of amputated limbs. “Yet we believe that given the opportunity, those little ones will also be able to participate in outdoor activities,” says Linda. Team members hope that the paragliding balloon drop will become a regular event in Namibia, with the focus on inspiration and helping Namibian children with physical disabilities.
Exiting a paragliding wing from a hot-air balloon is a rather interesting exercise. This dangerous manoeuvre takes place at a height of approximately 1 000 metres above ground level. It’s something called a ‘roll-over’, first done on a paragliding wing by Walter Neser in 1994, sometimes also called a McConky after the first base jumper to attempt it using a base parachute from a bridge. The pilots let the paraglider’s wing hang outside the balloon basket, while climbing onto the edge of the basket. Lines should be straight without twists as per inverted flight. The pilot then takes the toggles and rises before projecting himself with a jump over the wing to make a forward roll in mid-air. After a free fall of a few seconds, the paragliding canopy opens above the pilot, who can then glide to a safe landing.
However, it should be kept in mind that this is not the normal launch technique for paragliding wings. Paragliders are normally launched from mountains with a gentle slope. Additionally, flying hot-air balloons in a desert requires skill. To rise, the balloon requires a temperature differential between the air inside and the ambient air. With the desert warming up quickly, the window for lower temperatures are small. Balloons are also wind intolerable. Winds above three knots already cause difficulty in steering and launching, making this risky adventure even more dangerous.
In many aspects this event was a first for Namibia, for Namibian aviation and for the sport of paragliding in Namibia. The event was photographed by the professional photographer Francois Portmann from America and was supported by Air Namibia, Rail Link Logistics, Novel Motor Company (Volvo), Slabbert Burger Transport and Solitaire Country Lodge.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘08/Jan ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.