Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Wings of Kili - Paragliding From Africa's Highest Peak

IMAGINE more than 120 pilots descending in unison from Uhuru peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro, all suspended from giant colourful gliders.

Certainly not a sight to be missed and this is bound to take place between the 5th and 6th of February this year. The event, is among the series of 'daredevil' mountaineering adventures being coordinated under the 'Wings of Kilimanjaro,' team from Australia.It will be the first time ever that such a feat takes place on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the continent.The mountain also happens to be the world's tallest free standing mountain.

"We never permitted paragliding on Mount Kilimanjaro before because it wasn't in the list of our tour package," explained Mr Paschal Shelutete, the Public Relations Manager for the Tanzania National Parks, which manages the mountain. He added that, after the 'Wings of Kilimanjaro' event, TANAPA will consider allowing paragliding from the mountain to be among the list of activities offered to tourists scaling to the peak.

The new development may garner even more visitors to Kilimanjaro, which despite its worldwide fame, has been getting just 52,000 tourists per year at an average of 1000 visitors per week, with most of them doing it for charity. And sure enough, even this week's event is done in aid of charity. "We aim to raise US $1 million, the money which is to be invested in a number of humanitarian projects in Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara regions," said the Project Manager Ms Paula McRae.

That is probably the 'Wings of Kilimanjaro,' dubbed the 'Adventure of a lifetime,' got a nod from authorities to paraglide from the mountain even though the activity hasn't been endorsed yet. "We have to appreciate the cooperation shown by President Jakaya Kikwete, whom we recently met at the State House in Dar-es-salaam," said Ms McRae, adding that the Tanzanian leader endorsed the mission after learning that nearly 2 million Tanzanian stand to benefit from the charitable gliding from Kilimanjaro.

Therefore, if all goes well. Then this week's paragliding from Uhuru peak, is bound to be the most spectacular event to happen on Kilimanjaro ever since Hollywood descended on top of Africa's highest peak to shoot the IMAX adventure film, 'Kilimanjaro to the roof of Africa!,' back in 2002. Just like the IMAX film, the 'Wings of Kilimanjaro' adventurers will trek using the Machame route, instead of the usual Marangu Gate passage to the peak.

The WOK will also be filmed in a documentary as well as TV series to be air abroad. A feature film will also be made, following the stories of select pilots and team members. "The record-breaking event will be communicated to the world via international sport, lifestyle and news media coverage alongside global distribution of content via online cable and network platforms, including popular video distribution and social media sites," said Mr Adrian McRae, a pilot and the founder of 'Wings of Kilimanjaro.'

The pilots will first trek to the peak then fly down from there and Adrian says they have already mapped the route and the take-off pad at Uhuru peak. He adds that the group will spend seven days making the trek to the 19,340- foot peak where the pilots will launch. When the event was announced late last year, more than 300 pilots scrambled to be registered for the climb.

They came from over 60 countries, some from as far afield as Russia to Nepal from Singapore to Peru but the organizers screened the lot choosing around 150 pilots, who will be taking part in the 'Wings of Kilimanjaro,' adventure. According to organizers, for each pilot, the mission is very personal, and for many, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Participants commit to raising a minimum of US $5,000 towards the charity fund, and therefore they all had to undergo a rigorous application process. "We expect pilots to start flying down from the peak on the 5th or the 6th of February, in case the weather permits," said the coordinators, who added that 80 flyers will be gliding solo while the other 20 are expected to take 'passengers' with.

That means nearly 120 people will be paragliding down the 'Roof of Africa!' The expedition will also include more than 750 locals, who will be trekking as supporting staff and these will include porters, cooks, guides and other assistants. "We also have choppers at standby for rescue services should they be needed," said Mr Silvano Mvungi, the Director of the Moshi-based 'Top of Africa' tour company which handles the expedition.

Mr Mvungi added that the pilots are expected to land at Umbwe Secondary School and Mweka Technical College on the day of their descend.

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