When weather is ‘king’ in a solo flight around world
Published on: Sunday, January 09, 2022
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Threatening storm on December 17 which stopped Zara from taking off.
MIXING among pilots, I found they hold the weather in utter awe.  

Said Philip Tze, Deputy President of Sabah Flying Club: “If you fly headlong into a storm, the violent updrafts and downdrafts can break even a big plane into pieces, so what about Zara Rutterford’s tiny ultralight Shark which she uses to fly solo around the world?”  

So far, Zara has let the weather decide each flight every time, not her plan. 

For example, her original dream was to return home by early December 2021 after taking off form Belgium on 18 August but it’s early January 2022 now and she is still in Egypt – 20 days from home!

What happened?  Bad weather! 

In Columbia, worsening weather on flight forced her to land in rain-soaked Quidbo where she could not move out for days.

In Alaskan Russia, heavy snow and extreme minus 15 degree C cold detained her for three weeks in a small town called Ayan of 800 who speak little or no English.      

A ‘no go’ twice in Kota Kinabalu on account of bad weather

What about stopover Kota Kinabalu reputedly a ‘Land Below the Wind’? 

Winds and bad weather actually forced her to stay three days when it was supposed to be just one night.

On 17 December when she was supposed to take off at 8am for a seven-hour flight to Jakarta, a blinding downpour and a big system of dark clouds whipped up by the tail of Filipino Typhoon Rai scuttled her plan. 

When Singapore Airlines lent its help with real time weather report 

Sorry, “no go” and hope was placed on Dec 18 but when Captain John Sham got a friend, Captain Siva Lingham, a Senior Instructor to at the Singapore Airlines to tap into SIA’s real time weather assessment between Kota Kinabalu and Jarkata. Captain Siva reported seeing some sinister storms brewing over the Java Sea, potentially worsening probably late afternoon of December 17 – meaning Zara would hit that big thing as she approaches Jakarta, if she takes off at 9am. 

Come December 18, Captain Siva returned a disappointing “no go” a second time!

So, if you talk to enough pilots, the idea that Sabah being a Land Below the Wind sound overzealous.

Weather is concentrated 20 degrees north & south of equator: Capt Raja

As Captain Dorai Raja noted: “Europe is fine now in Winter but the tropics, 20 degrees north of the equator or 20 degree south of the equator, that’s where all the weather is concentrated.” 

Sabah is located about 4 to 8 degrees north of the equator while Jakarta is about the same distance south of the equator – both probably volatile for small planes.

Weather in Borneo is tricky and unpredictable: Capt Sham 

Captain John Sham said he was concerned about the temperamental nature of our region’s weather for Zara’s safety.    

“Places like Egypt where Zara is now, the weather is pretty predictable,” he said.  

“But the weather in Borneo can be tricky and unpredictable,” he noted.

Which explains why he kept very busy to get the most updated weather information from close friend Captain Siva Lingham, Senior Instructor with Singapore Airlines, to brief Zara. 

“Siva’s weather information comes from their aircraft live so he taps on his iPad what he sees now and since Zara has a satellite phone I am going to feed her live from Siva because she got weather information from Europe but Europe they don’t understand the weather in Borneo,” Captain Sham pointed out.

Even F1-11 could not cope and crashed 

“For example, many years ago there was one F1-11 – one of the best fighter jets, an aircraft that used auto pilot but could not cope and crashed in Tioman because the Malaysian weather is very varied. 

“Borneo is worse and there were many experienced pilots who lost their lives. So you cannot use European forecast. The best is Singapore, they got the best eyes,” Captain John Sham asserted.  

Come December 19, in a dawn Zoom weather briefing between Capt Siva, Zara and Capt Sham, Siva reported the weather between KK and Jakarta was clear enough and Zara taxied out at 6.50am and took off at about 7.06 am for a direct seven-hour flight to Jakarta. 

If anybody thinks contact between Zara and Captain John Sham in KK stopped there and then, they are mistaken.

Non-stop contact with SIA, Capt Sham pad off en route Jakarta

Captain Sham said he and Zara, Captain Siva and Zara’s father maintained contact through her satellite phone and when she reached the southern tip of Borneo island, Zara saw a dark storm in the horizon over the Java Sea. 

So, another crucial decision time – go into it or divert? 

Again, the four M’s practices – Man; Machine, Medium and Management were invoked.

Can the Machine (plane) take such a  potentially destructive medium (storm)?

Can Man (a tired pilot after a long flight) take it? 

Management was up to her now, on the basis of the best real time information from Capt Siva in cohort with Captain Sham. 

“I am glad she decided what she did – divert and landed in a basic Ketapang Airport, Kalimantan, where she was warmly welcomed.         

“She is smart,” Captain Sham concluded.


Capt Siva Lingham, Singapore Airlines senior instructor, briefing Zara on real-time weather.

Zoom weather briefing between Zara, Capt Sham and SIA senior instructor Capt Siva. 


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December 20, 2014