Handiflight round-the-world event held for disabled pilots

Handiflight pilots Alex Krol (left) and Eric Dabas in front of the German-built CTLS light sport aircraft, designed with special hand controls to allow them to fly without using their legs. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Handiflight pilots Alex Krol (left) and Eric Dabas in front of the German-built CTLS light sport aircraft, designed with special hand controls to allow them to fly without using their legs. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
When Alex Krol lost the use of his legs in a car accident in 2005, he thought his life was over.

The former Royal Marine Commando was 22 years old at the time, and for the following couple of years, he found it hard to get to grips with his disability and move on.

''To be fair, I was devastated. For a long time, my injury defined who I was.''

It was a similar story for French Ministry of Defence helicopter flight simulator operator/instructor Eric Dabas, who lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident 35 years ago.

Since then, both have learnt to fly, and both credit the step as helping them come to terms with their new lives.

''For me, it allows me to feel free and forget my disability,'' Mr Dabas said.

''It is fantastic - liberating - for the brain, it is very good.''

So when the duo were contacted by Handiflight co-founder and president Daniel Ramseier, asking if they would help fly a plane around the world, they embraced the opportunity.

Handiflight is a bi-annual event in which disabled pilots gather to fly planes around the Swiss Alps.

The event is the initiative of Mr Ramseier's daughter, Sarah, who was the only survivor of a light plane crash.

It is now the biggest gathering of disabled pilots in the world.

Mr Ramseier said he wanted to do something different this year, so has helped organise an 80,000km around-the-world voyage to raise $US80,000 for Humanity and Inclusion, part of the charity Handicap International.

Mr Ramseier said the trip also aimed to ''explore new horizons, combat prejudices, and promote the inclusion of disabled people''.

The journey began in Switzerland in November last year.

The duo will fly to Wanaka today, before continuing their journey back to Auckland.

Mr Dabas and Mr Krol are part of a team of 12 pilots (many of whom are paraplegic) who are flying a German-built CTLS light sport aircraft on its journey around the world.

The plane has been fitted with hand controls to allow them to fly without using their legs.

Mr Dabas joined the journey in Perth, Australia, and over the past 6 weeks he has flown the plane across Australia to Port Macquarie on the east coast.

From there he flew across the Tasman Sea, dotting down on Lord Howe Island to rest and refuel, before arriving in Kerikeri, New Zealand.

Mr Krol then joined the journey to help fly the plane down the country.

From there, it is hoped disabled pilot Tim Ellison, a former Royal Air Force Harrier fighter pilot, will fly the plane to South America, via Pacific Islands along the way.

The challenge is expected to finish in October this year.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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