Thu, 01 Jun 2023

BRUSSELS, Belgium: Zara Rutherford, a teenager from Belgium, is nearing the completion of a solo round-the-world flight.

Rutherford, age 19, is scheduled to land her single-seater Shark sport aircraft in Kortrijk, Belgium, on January 17, completing a 150 day journey to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo.

The previous round-the-world record had been set by American Shaesta Waiz, age 30.

Rutherford began flying at age 14. Both of her parents are also pilots.

Her route has taken her from Europe to Greenland and down the east coast of North and South America.

Circling back, she flew through Central America and up the west coast of North America to Alaska.

She then flew across to Russia and south into Asia, passing Korea, Japan and China, continuing south to the Philippines.

She then flew northwards, passing over Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and on to India.

She continued westward, passing through the Middle East, on to the African continent and finally north, entering Europe again over Greece.

Of course, things did not always go as planned. She was forced down in Redding, California when smoke from forest fires made it impossible for her to continue. The light over Russia's Siberia played tricks with her vision, and China would not let her fly over their territory, citing Covid restrictions.

While flying over Siberia, she said the vastness of the region could be frightening.

"I realized if something goes wrong, I'm hours and hours and hours away from rescue, and it was -35 C on the ground. And so I thought, actually, I don't know how long I can survive -35," Rutherford told the Associated Press.

She also was delayed due to bad weather, a flat tire and visa issues, which ultimately added another two months to the three-month project.

While grounded in Greece due to bad weather in the Balkans, she noted,

"When you're fearing for your life, it puts things into perspective a little bit more. I mean, a cloud - a cloud - could kill me."

In wealthy nations, "we grow up in a world with a huge amount of safety nets," she said. "Actually flying over Alaska, Russia or Greenland, that's when you realize - there is no safety net. Like, this is really just me. There's nobody here to help me if anything is wrong."

After five months, she is expected in Belgium, where a large welcome is planned.

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