Pune: Late on Tuesday night when some people in Hadapsar noticed what appeared to be a tiny auto-rickshaw with something weird flapping above it, and then a feminine figure dressed in the National Tricolour lights suddenly hurtling towards earth, they mistook it for some strange Unidentified Flying Object (UFO).
It was actually India’s queen of adventure sports, Shital Rane-Mahajan, paying a unique tribute to womankind on the International Women’s Day (March 8), plus aiming for a new Guinness World Record by her feat, along with pilot Vijay Sethi.
In the unprecedented fly-by-night adventure lasting around 25 minutes, the duo — Shital and Sethi — completed a thrilling ascent of 5,100 feet above Pune on an Australian-made Paramotor fitting with a hummerchute, encircling the sky for around 3-4 kms.
For the jump, the Padmashri laureate Shital was wearing a suit specially designed by her father, the late Kamlakar Mahajan with sparkling LED lights of the Indian Flag colours that afforded a breathtaking spectacle to many below in the cool dark sky, splashed with angry black clouds heralding a storm.
From 5,000 feet, Shital smoothly ‘ejected’ herself from the Paramotor into a free fall for a few seconds before her parachute opened up, and she glided gently to the starting point at Hadapsar Gliding Centre where the in-charge Shailesh Chabhe kept an eagle-eye as she successfully ended her GWR attempt.
“I was fulfilling my Dad’s dream of 2017 when we had gone to Kutch (Gujarat) for a similar Paramotor attempt, but it was not possible then due to various reasons… Tonight, all fell into place,” a gushing Shital told IANS post-landing.
“We had secured all clearances, including the Pune ATC and the Weather Bureau… But just as we touched 5,100 feet, we encountered thick black clouds and had to deviate from our charted route… I was worried stiff, but I told Shital nothing as I didn’t want to deflate her enthusiasm,” Sethi smiled.
A professional Paramotorist since 2016, for Sethi it was his first night-flight and both may have set a new global record for the venture — the confirmation of which shall be available from GWR in a month or so.
On their nocturnal feat, both Shital and Sethi were stunned by the beauty of Pune city, the surroundings Western Ghats and other sights.
Sethi said he remembered the historic words — “Saare Jahan Se Achha, Hindustan Hamara” — uttered by India’s first Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (April 1984).
A businessman, Sethi offers free Paramotor rides to enthusiasts at Amby Valley, Lonavala, and fondly patted his three-wheeler flying machine.
“This is a 28-year-old design and the most successful model, very easy-to-manoeuvre, costs around Rs 25 lakhs, weighs 110 kg (almost equal to a normal scooter) and has a payload capacity of 250 kgs,” he explained.
Settled in Finland after marriage, the Pune-born Shital is an accomplished adventure sportswoman with a string of national-international records to her credit, including crazy leaps above the North Pole, South Pole, climbing and then diving off several mountains, cherishing a dream to do the same from Mt. Everest someday…!
An extreme sports enthusiast with Himalayan Rallies under his belt, Sethe rues the “utter lack of adventure spirit” among today’s children and youth, who seem obsessed with their mobiles and other gadgets instead of exploring the ‘amazing world out there’.
“I offer free rides to people, to attract them, spark a love for adventure, but we need to do a lot more,” said Sethi.