Olivier Laugero is an accomplished pilot and paragliding photographer whose adventures are enough to make most of us either sick with jealousy or tremble with fear. In 2009 Olivier was the first person to land a tandem on the summit of Mont Blanc, a feat he’s repeated since.
Olivier spent the first 22 years of his life in Paris. In 1987 his father took up paragliding and later introduced his son to the sport: “He threw me into the air when I was 19 years old, and somehow I managed to learn to fly.”
Even before Olivier flew he was a keen birdwatcher and he says, “Every time it’s a great pleasure to climb in a thermal with an eagle or a vulture. They are my masters!”
His first two flights were in the Alps, flying without the radios most beginners are used to. Olivier then moved to the Caribbean island of Marie Galante where, as the islands only pilot, he spent every day soaring over a blue lagoon!
Since then he has travelled and flown all over the world. His most memorable trip... “Flying over the biggest dune in the world in the Namibian desert was an incredible feeling. Especially when you meet two huge hyenas on the way back from the landing zone. Flying in Himalaya, in the Karakorum is one of my favorite playgrounds.
“In Tanzania, I tried to do a bivouac flight. I was sleeping in the savanna alone during the night, using my canopy as a mattress, along the Ngorongoro National park. In the middle of the night I heard the hyenas screaming and I spent the rest of the night hanging in a tree like a monkey until the sunrise came.”
Much of Olivier’s adventure flying has been in remote parts of Africa and Asia, on occasion landing in tiny remote villages.
“During 2004, I did a bivouac flight with four friends in Ethiopia for 12 days. During the trip we landed in three different villages in the middle of nowhere. No gravel road, just trail for the donkeys. We were the first white people to reach their villages. People thought that we were some kind of angels, or warriors dropped from an airplane...”
Olivier visited Pakistan in 2006 with his friend Eric Gramond and John Silvester, he returned in 2012 and a video of the trip can be viewed below. Asking about the security situation in the country he said "It’s a little bit tricky to do the visa, and the army is every where, but when you fly and quit the city, it’s ok!"
It was Olivier’s interest in animals which got him interested in photography and, aged 13 he would take photographs of bats and snakes. Today his photography helps to pay for his adventures, “I try to find excuses to travel and take photos for magazines - the paragliding brand is a good one.”
Eight years ago, Olivier attended the first Ghanaian paragliding festival which has since become a major annual event in the country. Pilots from around the world descend on Nkawkaw, at the foot of the Kwahu mountains to fly both solo and tandem with local passengers.
“It’s a nice meeting, some Ghanaian passengers seems very motivated to learn. It’s a big party on the take off, and it’s a good show for the local people.
“There are no place to learn in Ghana, and no local pilots. This year a pilot from Nigeria came to the event, and he learnt in Togo with a french instructor few years ago. But we plan to spend few weeks in Ghana in the future, to teach.
“This year I was only in Ghana for one week, so threre was no time to fly in the other spots. But during the first and second festival, we did some nice flights over the flatland, 40km xc, about 1 hour east of Accra, the capital. In Nkawkaw, the place of the festival, the condition was sometimes good, and we could fly easily more than 50km.”
Olivier is no stranger to tandem flying. At home in the French Alps he is a professional tandem pilot, and in 2009 was the first person to land a tandem paraglider on the summit of Mont Blanc.
“During the summer, I fly my tandem every day, and I like share the opportunity to ‘fly over the top of Europe’. When the temperature climbs high, and when the cloudbase goes up every day, all the local pilot are on the starting block.
“I flew three times over the summit with my tandem, and I was able to top land twice. The last year was very special because some pilots flew over the summit on three consecutive days. A lot of people came from far away to do it. It was surreal to see 100 gliders over the top!“
Olivier is full of plans for future adventures.
“I would like to fly over Concordia and along K2, so I should go back to Pakistan in September 2013. That’s so wild and pure, and any little flight can be a huge adventure,” he says.
“I would like discover the Pacific Islands, they are so many places, and a sailboat with all the gears on it could be the perfect combination.
“I did a trip like that in 2009, starting from France and sailing to the Caribbean Islands for seven months on a sailboat. I flew in Madeira, Canary, Capo Verde, and in the Caribbean island. But Kitesurfing was one of the main activity."
His advice to others looking for adventure is simple: “Don’t be too focused on paragliding flights or you could be disapointed. If you’ve got some great conditions, enjoy. If it’s not good to fly, then hike, meet local people or observe the wildlife!”
You can contact Olivier for guiding in the Chamonix region and trips around the world at his website: www.wingoverchamonix.com