Balloon flight over Mt. Kilimanjaro

2003 Feb 19

Book ID 832

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Balloon flight over Mt. Kilimanjaro, 2003 Feb 19
Extract Date: 19 February 2003

Balloon flight over Mt. Kilimanjaro

In February 19th 2003, a Dutch balloon team attempted the flight over Mt. Kilimanjaro with a normal hot air balloon. The flight was done by the pilots Karel Abbenes and Willem Hijink, at an altitude of over 23,000 feet (6,900m).

In search of a Tanzanian partner who could take care of all logistics, Karel contacted JMT African Heart Expeditions in November 2002. It took us only 5 minutes to agree getting involved in this extraordinary adventure.

Preparations could now start : the balloon and basket were flown over by KLM, the necessary permits were obtained, gas and a charter plane (for photgraphing and filming the balloon flight) were arranged. Karel and Hein Brunings arrived mid-February, one week before the rest of the team members, to collect the balloon at Kilimanjaro airport customs. KLM pilots kindly agreed to measure wind speed and direction at different altitude levels and communicate these every evening during their descent to Kilimanjaro airport via radio.

The other team members arrived and on February 17th the expedition left Arusha. The location from where the balloon would take off, on the north-east side of Mt. Kilimanjaro, was reached the next day. Now the expedition members had to put up camp and wait until weather conditions would be OK for the flight.

The morning of February 19th, all equipment, as well as inboard and outboard cameras, were made ready for the flight. One hour before sunrize the last weather balloons were inflated and the final checks carried out. Oxygen for the pilots was connected. Karel and Willem took off at 07.05 am. One vehicle immediately returned to the other side of the mountain, where the balloon would be retrieved after the flight.

The balloon took off heading south and gradually gaining height. During the climb to over 7 kms radio contact was established with Kilimanjaro airport tower. With increasing altitude the winds changed to east and brought them towards the first goal : Mawenzi peak. The wind the KLM crew had given the pilots was exactly the same as they found near the peak. From Mawenzi the winds took them to Kibo with Uhuru peak as the main goal. Temperature dropped to minus 15C. Uhuru peak came into view and the pilots climbed a bit to get even better winds. The winds took them right over the center of the crater. The mission was a 100% success. The remainder of the flight was enjoying the view. Mt. Kenya could be seen to the north-west, to the south-east Kilimanjaro airport with Arusha just south of mount Meru was clearly visible.

After a further 45 minutes at more than 7 kilometer altitude the pilots decided that a landing should be made south of Tinga Tinga. The Masai, who have several villages in that landing area, came out from the plains to welcome the aeronauts back to earth. They were amazed that we had flown across the mountain and were but only too pleased to assist with the packing of the balloon. The safety airplane with Hein Brunings, who filmed the flight, had no problem finding the landing site of the balloon and passed the landing location coordinates on to the chase team on the ground. Willem and Karel had to wait for more than 6 hours before the chase team with Erik van Halsema and Marco Hijink had taken the cars around Mount Kilimanjaro. Everything was loaded on the trailers, for return back to Arusha. The expedition was a success.

The team : Karel Abbenes, Willem Hijink, Hein Brunings, Erik van Halsema, Marco Hijink

Extract ID: 4792
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