I was in two minds as to whether to pull this story. It’s both wonderful and incredibly sad. It’s the true story of how a bunch of teenagers built and flew a plane from Cape Town to Cairo, and it’s the equally true story of how two project directors of U-Dream Global, the operation behind the teenagers success, would later die in a plane crash, in Tanzania.
The easy to tell part is very wonderful. Founded by 16-year-old Megan Werner, U-Dream Global is aimed at persuading the young that it is perfectly possible to do anything, given the right motivation and opportunity. How better to prove the theory than have 20 teenagers from very different socio-economic backgrounds build a Sling 4 plane and fly it to Cairo, stopping off in Namibia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Tanzania, and Uganda to give motivational talks to peers.
Sourced from Airplane Factory, the Sling 4 – a kit plane consisting of thousands of parts, and which usually takes 3,000 man-hours to assemble – was built in much less time, and then flown the 7,455-mile journey by newly qualified pilots. They were supported on route by another Sling 4, piloted by Des Werner, father of Megan, and by Werner Froneman. The support plane ran into trouble, and had to land in Tanzania, meaning the teenagers made their way to Cairo unsupported.
The teenagers’ achievements electrified the world. It was and remains an extraordinary testament to the groups tenacity, ability, and self-belief. Tragically, and for reasons yet to be explained, having taken off from Tabora Airport in central-western Tanzania, and setting course for Malawi (where they aimed to re-join the teenagers on their return trip south), the support team’s plane crashed, killing both pilots.
My heart goes out to the pilots’ families and friends, and in sharing U-Dream Global’s achievements, I did not want our celebrating of its wonder to feel unseemly, given the tragic turn of events. However, having read the organisation’s own statement, and knowing the strength that lies at the core of the project, I’m glad to say I don’t feel that way at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
U-Dream Global’s full statement concerning the deaths of Des Werner and Werner Froneman can be found on the project’s Facebook account. The below gives us all wonderful insight into the directors themselves and into the project they so heartily believed in.
‘The U-Dream Global team has been dealt a massive blow by the death of the two Directors who were integrally involved in making the dreams of many youth a reality. However, the nature and integrity of the team will certainly shine through in the long run as the Cape to Cairo flight started by the U-Dream Global team members will continue until finality as and when the team re-groups.
‘The perseverance and vigour previously injected into the project will certainly be re-ignited and be ramped up when the flight continues and new projects commence. The sustainability and commencement of these projects will honour the two stellar leaders who will forever be remembered for the ethos they cultivated within the organisation and which they aimed at imparting to multitudes of youth within Africa.’
Image Credit: U-Dream Global