My friend Angelo tragically lost his life aged 45 at Comiso in northern Italy on Sunday 26 March 2006 whilst riding as a passenger in a Sky Arrow. The funeral was held in the Cathedral of his home town Catania in Sicily on 28 March. Thousands of mourners were there to pay their last respects to Italy's most famous sport pilot.
I first met Angelo on the international competitions circuit in the late 1980's. He was taking time out from his first passion of free flying to compete in microlight championships. UK pilots may remember the occasion he participated in a round of the UK Nationals at Sutton Meadows in Cambridgeshire. In the pure economy task nobody could quite believe it when he managed to stay up with the same amount of fuel for more than twice as long as anyone else; the man was truly a great pilot.
Perhaps his most extraordinary achievement in a microlight was to attempt to beat the outright distance without landing World record in 1991 by flying a tiny single seat trike from his home in Sicily downwind to Egypt, a distance of more than 1700 Km, almost all over water. The 16 hour flight didn't go entirely to plan and he finished up spending a month in a Libyan jail before being deported home to Italy. International politics prevented his ever being able to formally make a World record claim, but if he had it would still be standing today.
In more recent times Angelo returned to his true love of free flight in hang gliders and paragliders and got interested in the concept of flying with and learning to fly from large birds of prey. This developed into his Metamorphosi project, the first element of this took place in April 2001; to follow the central Mediterranean migratory route in his hang glider from central Tunisia to Cap Bon and thence the 150 Km sea crossing to Sicily. My part in this expedition was to aerotow him to a decent starting height for each leg of the journey with my Pegasus microlight.
In association with a Russian university, Angelo's second Metamorphosi expedition in 2002 was an effort to teach a flock of endangered Siberian Cranes to migrate by leading them in a Hang glider fitted with a ‘Mosquito’ power unit 5,500 Km from the Arctic circle in Siberia, across Kazakhstan to the shores of the Caspian sea in Iran. Several of their cranes did subsequently make the return journey the following season.
These two journeys attracted a great deal of favorable publicity in Italy which made it possible to raise the funding for his most ambitious project yet, to fly his hang glider over Mt Everest. My part in this, as with the Tunisian expedition, was to aerotow him to a decent starting height for the attempt. The expedition required a lot of specialized equipment which had to be prepared and tested in advance and I spent a lot of time with Angelo in the 18 months or so it took to get ready. Despite some very difficult weather the expedition was ultimately a huge success, Angelo came to national prominence in Italy as a result.
Our most recent expedition was to do a flight over Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the World outside the Himalayas. I towed him to just under 24,000 ft from whence he flew over the summit on the last day of 2005.
The Aconcagua expedition was planned to be just the first of more expeditions to the Andes; in spring 2005 Angelo acquired two Condor eggs from an Austrian university. After they hatched he spent six weeks in an aviary with a black and white glider teaching them who was 'mummy'. It is thought that adolescent wild Condors need a considerable period of training from their elders before they are properly equipped to fend for themselves. They fledged in september 2005 and Angelo had already conducted some promising 'flying lessons' with these giant birds; the plan was to take them to Peru later in 2006 to start flying with them with a view to possibly being able to re-introduce them to the wild.
At the same time the Everest and Aconcagua expeditions seemed to have become just the beginning of an attempt to fly a hang glider over all the 'Seven Summits', the highest peak on every continent. Before his death he had already found some support for an expedition to fly his glider over Mt Vinson in Antarctica.
Angelo married Laura Mancuso in 1990, he leaves a daughter, Joelle aged 19, and two sons, Gabriel aged 14 and Ivan aged 3.
You may leave condolences to Angelo's family at www.angelodarrigo.com