Paragliding certainly not for the faint-hearted

The writer, Noorazlina, enjoying her flight with pilot Haznain. — Bernama

Paragliding is an extreme sport requiring nerves of steel, but those who dare to try will find the experience truly unforgettable.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bukit Kokol in Manggatal, which is a 40-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu, was a paragliding haven for adventure sports lovers.

This writer had the chance to go on a tandem paragliding flight in the area with experienced paragliding pilot Major (R) Haznain Ngamil, 51, in tow.

Having gone on tandem paragliding flights twice previously, the writer looked forward to gliding once again through the air more than 800m above sea level.

(A tandem paraglider is designed to carry two people -– the passenger and the pilot. The passenger is securely strapped into a flying harness that is in front of the pilot.)

They arrived at the Bukit Kokol launch spot located 807.7m above sea level in the morning but had to wait nearly an hour before taking off as it was foggy and the wind was not blowing in the right direction.

Prior to the pandemic, many Malaysians and foreign tourists used to go paragliding in Bukit Kokol.Prior to the pandemic, many Malaysians and foreign tourists used to go paragliding in Bukit Kokol.

Gadgets were installed at the take-off site to indicate the direction of the wind.

Taking flight

After almost an hour, the fog became thinner as the sun rose higher.

To ensure the weather conditions were safe for paragliding, Haznain used a walkie-talkie to communicate with his wife Asmah Ahmad, 42, who is also a tandem paragliding pilot who helped to monitor the weather.

Before taking off, Haznain checked the paragliding equipment that weighed 5kg.

The writer was given a helmet to wear and strapped into a harness that was attached to the glider (or wing).

Haznain reminded the writer not to jump, instead, all she had to do was run towards the edge of the cliff about 5m away.

“Walk a bit to the front and run!,” he shouted. By then, the writer was already gliding in the air.

For a few moments, nothing was visible below due to the thin layer of fog.

Eventually, it cleared up, revealing splendid vistas of forested areas, hills, rooftops of village houses and roads.

Also visible were the expansive South China Sea and even outlines of Menara Kinabalu and 1Sulaman project in distant Kota Kinabalu.

After gliding for 15 minutes, it was time to land near Kampung Pulutan in the foothills of Bukit Kokol.

Rewarding hobby

Haznain, who is the managing director of Borneo Paragliders, which he founded in 2012 to offer paragliding flights, took up the sport as a hobby at the Negri Sembilan Aviation Sports Club in 2007.

In 2008, he scouted for suitable locations to carry out paragliding in Sabah, where he has been living since 1995.

“The first place I came across was Kampung Lohan in Ranau, then I found two more places, in Bukit Kokol (in 2010) and Kota Belud (2019),” said the retired army major who hails from Banting, Selangor.

Haznain, who is also vice-president of the Kinabalu Paragliding Club, said permission must be sought from the Civil Aviation Department and other authorities before an area can be turned into a launch spot for paragliding.

His company now hires 15 pilots, including his wife and 30 other staff. — Bernama

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