Updated: Mar 9
✦ She may have arrived at her destination two months later than originally planned but it was definitely a case of worth the wait for Zara Rutherford who became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world earlier this year.
Nineteen-year-old Zara, who has dual British-Belgian nationality, had originally scheduled three months to complete the daunting voyage, as detailed in a previous preview story by Brilliant-online. However, due to inclement weather conditions and difficulties securing the necessary visa clearance in certain destinations, the trip ultimately took a total of five months.
After starting her journey from Kortrijk in Belgium on August 18 last year, Zara travelled over 32,000 miles (51,000 km) and made more than 60 stops across five continents during her trip, breaking two Guinness World Records in the process. She spent a month stuck in Nome, Alaska and a total of 41 days in Russia, with a variety of other obstacles thrown in for good measure.
‘I made it!’
On landing in Kortrijk-Wevelgem in Belgium on January 20, she was greeted by her family, friends, journalists and well-wishers in addition to four planes from the Belgian Red Devils aerobatic display team.
“I made it,” a delighted Zara told the crowd once she had exited the cockpit of her bespoke Shark ultralight aircraft.
“It’s just really crazy, I haven’t quite processed it,” she told the waiting press as she wrapped herself in British and Belgian flags.
She later told a press conference she was “so glad” she took on the challenge and urged others to not hesitate in undertaking similarly-testing endeavours.
“I’m looking forward to telling people about my experiences and encouraging people to do something crazy with your life. If you have the opportunity - go for it!”
The record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world was previously set by American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her challenge in 2017. Not only did Zara beat that record but she also now holds the title for the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft. Furthermore, she is also the first Belgian to fly around the world alone.
Despite the incredible achievement, there were a myriad of challenges en route - some anticipated, some not.
The weather was the major factor on several occasions, ultimately adding to the two month delay. Severe weather conditions in Nome, Alaska forced her to be grounded longer than planned and the delay saw her Russian visa expire as a result. She then had to wait as her passport was sent to the Russian consulate in Houston to secure her visa.
Even after receiving her passport with Russian visa included, Zara still had to wait a further three weeks before she could cross the Bering Strait with only three of 39 flights permitted to take to air during that period.
“It is -18C and my hands are literally so cold,” Zara posted in a video update on her Instagram account when stranded in Nome.
“I’ve been here for almost a month. I’ve been keeping busy, I’ve been applying to universities and keeping the plane ready to go.
“The weather hasn’t been great. Every time, either Russia has been looking bad or Nome has been looking bad.”
Beautiful and diverse
Siberia is renowned for its freezing conditions, forcing a mechanic to modify Zara’s aircraft by blocking some of the air intakes in order to keep the engine warm in the extreme cold, as the temperature crept as low as -35C on the ground and -20C in the air.
Despite the mechanic’s best efforts with the tweaks, Zara was still delayed, forcibly grounded in Magadan for a week and then in Ayan for three weeks.
“The hardest par