LJUBLJANA – Slovenian adventurer and environmentalist Matevz Lenarcic on Sunday became the first person to fly an ultralight plane from Europe to America and back over the North Pole, as he landed in Ljubljana after an epic voyage.
“I’ve had more trouble than I had expected, and that prolonged the expedition, but what matters is that me and the plane have arrived safely,” the 54-year-old told a crowd of supporters.
But his monthlong journey was not all plain sailing.
The trained biologist had to make an unscheduled stop in Saint-Nazaire, France, due to weather conditions and an Irish airport did not have the type of fuel required for his aircraft.
However, after a two-day delay, Lenarcic took off from Saint-Nazaire early Sunday and finally landed in Ljubljana from where he had departed on April 22.
“I’ve had many unexpected events. That is why this trip has taken 14 days longer than initially planned,” Lenarcic said Thursday on arrival in Saint-Nazaire.
The plane was equipped to measure air pollution over the North Pole — a hot spot for global warming — and Lenarcic said all measurements had gone as planned.
While flying over the Arctic, an important indicator of global weather changes, Lenarcic was surprised to notice that “temperatures on the actual North Pole were much higher than in surrounding areas.”
An accomplished aerial photographer, Lenarcic took pictures and measured levels of black carbon and light-absorbing particles over the Arctic at an altitude of 3,000 to 4,000 meters, a level rarely explored by scientists.
These particles — mostly the product of burning coal and other fossil fuels — absorb light from the sun and thus play a role in the complex equation of global warming.
The 15,600-km project was initiated last year after Lenarcic succeeded in circling the world in the same aircraft, a Pipistrel Virus SW914, which weighs just 290 kg unladen.