Wednesday, March 22, 2006

German reminisces gliding down Mount Kinabalu

The spot on South Peak where Witte (photo inset) 'took-off'.
Later to be named Witte's Cliff. NST pix and copyright

Witte flying above the clouds in this successful 1984 glide.
NST pix and copyright

KOTA KINABALU (NST) - While everyone was trying to climb Mt Kinabalu, one man had his heart set only on the descent.

It was 1984 and Ernst Witte wanted to be the first to hang-glide down the mountain.

But despite his best efforts, the authorities refused to budge from their position that it was dangerous to do so.

A year of correspondence finally saw the German getting permission for the daredevil dive down the 4,095.2-metre mountain. Witte still has a 'souvenir' from the experience - a scar on his left knee.

"I was hooked to my seat and left my fate to the four locals I had trained to stabilise the hang-glider. I told them that they had to let go of it at the same time, or I would go around in circles and crash to my death."

"They did a good job but the worst was yet to come."

Unexpected winds from the base of the mountain swept him even higher than a helicopter with a broadcast crew on board.

The wind speed was 75 kilometres per hour, five times the safe maximum wind speed for hang-gliding.

"The pilot later told me that I had reached more than 5,000 metres because I was flying higher than the helicopter was able to.

"I suffered a nose bleed and felt like fainting."

Even as his life hung in the balance, his mind was constantly on the next thing to do: Look for a place to land.

"I eventually saw a clearing through the clouds and ended in a farmer's backyard - where I cut my knee while landing."

It was the farmer who helped Witte back to the Kinabalu Park. By then, many were wondering about his fate as he had targeted Bundu Tuhan, about 3km away, as his landing site.

Witte became a celebrity overnight with wide coverage in the local and German media.

The then Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Ahmad Shah, even wanted to meet him.

Witte's hang-glider was displayed for a while at the Sabah Museum.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

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