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Babu Sunuwar flies off Everest

23 May 2011
Tandem paraglider pilot Babu Sunuwar and experienced Everest climber Lakpa Tshering Sherpa have flown a tandem paraglider from the summit of Everest.
The successful flight was the first leg in a summit-to-sea attempt to fly tandem from Everest and then continue by paraglider, kayak and bike to sea level in Bangladesh.
According to their SPOT track the pair spent four days on their final ascent before flying off the top on Saturday 21 May 2011.
And rather than land at Everest base camp, they flew on to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa town and mountain capital of the Everest region – a cross country flight of over 20km.

They landed at the Syangboche airstrip, which sits above Namche Bazaar at an altitude of 3,750m.

Babu and Lakpa climbed the mountain from the Nepal side along the classic South Col route. They then took off on the north side of the mountain, after going over the top and slightly down the other side. The flight then took them back across the Western Ridge and into the Everest basin.

From there they turned south-west and crossed the massive flank of 7,861m Nupste at well above 7,000m. They continued in a straight line, crossing above the summit of the popular 5,806m trekking mountain Pokalde Peak. From there their flight took them past Ama Dablam to the landing at Syangboche airstrip.

Babu, who is 29, was the pilot while 35-year-old Lakpa Tshering Sherpa was in the passenger seat.
The pair took off at 9.55am local time after completing their summit push under the light of a full moon on Friday 20 May. Setting out at 11pm they reached the summit nine hours later at 8.23am.

They then spent over an hour finding a launch site and preparing the wing. After launching the flight lasted 42 minutes and they landed at the airstrip over 5,000m below at 10.37am.

Speaking to Adam Hill, the owner of a tandem paragliding outfit in Nepal, later that day by phone Babu said the wind on the summit had been, “not too bad but also not too good.”

Babu, full name Sanubabu Sunuwar, is a tandem paraglider pilot for Blue Sky Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal. He was interviewed in issue 133 of Cross Country magazine where he described an 850km 30-day cross-Nepal tandem paragliding adventure in March 2010 that saw him fly from west to east across his home country.

He described thermals of 18m/s and being “completely engulfed” in freezing cloud for 25 minutes as he struggled to cross a valley.

An experienced pilot and kayaker he had not however been into the big mountains before – the highest peak he’d climbed before Everest was 6,400m. Lakpa Tshering however is an experienced high altitude climber who has climbed Everest at least five times.

The flight comes at the height of the Everest season in Nepal. The few days around 20/21 May each year are traditionally ‘summit days’ – when the ever-present Jet Stream lifts a little and allows a perfect weather window for Everest climbers, and in this case pilots.

Two other climber-pilots have been on the mountain this spring.
British woman Squash Falconer wanted to become the first solo woman to fly from the summit. She reached the top on 10 May but strong winds meant she didn’t fly.
And Brazilian Rodrigo Raineri reached the summit on 20 May but also did not fly.

The flight however is only the first part of an ambitious adventure for Babu and Lakpa. Their plan of ‘Summit to Sea’ includes climbing Everest, then flying off (tick and tick) before reaching the Sun Khosi river. They then plan to kayak the length of that before cycling through India to the coast.
Only three other people have flown from the summit of Everest. French alpinist Jean Marc Boivin did it first on a very basic glider in 1988; and tandem pair Claire Roche-Bernier and Roche Bertrand flew from the summit in 2001.
More details as they come through from Nepal – and a full write up of Babu’s amazing feat in the next issue of Cross Country magazine.
  van der Bank

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