MONROVIA: A US based Liberian born pilot, Abner Yonly, yesterday set a new aviation record of being the first African to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a single engine aircraft.
The journey took off from October 27, 2023 in the state of Maryland, USA and landed in Liberia on November 23, 2023, amidst excitement and celebration for recording such an unprecedented aviation feat.
The 37 year old Liberian, who was born and raised in Liberia before travelling to the United States, embarked his journey in a 1976 Beechcraft Sundowner from Maryland, USA and then crossed the North Atlantic from Canada to Greensland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the United Kingdom, France and Spain.
He arrived in Africa via Morocco before making his way to West Africa in Senegal. He made his final destination to Liberia yesterday, Thursday, November 23, 2023, first at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), where he was processed before flying to the James Spriggs Payne domestic airport from where he was received by hundreds of Liberians who had thronged the venue to give him a rousing welcome.
“This is an extraordinary day for Liberia for one of our own, Abner, to have embarked upon the journey from the United States to Liberia in a single engine aircraft,” family member of the celebrant said.
Speaking at a brief welcome program shortly before he was presented to the press, Abner said he was not a strange person to Liberia, having been born and raised in the country, had his early education at Barnes Foundation and completed high school education at the SOS Academy at Old Matadi.
He said the intent of the expedition was not for money making but to inspire young Liberians to appreciate the profession and strive to make it their discipline.
“I was in Liberia around March/April this year,” he told his story. “I visited Spriggs Field and I was like this is Liberia, I was born here. How can I inspire kids to know about aviation and make it as their profession? So when I got back, I decided to plan towards making a journey here and today I am here”.
“So getting to the airport and not seeing many Liberian pilots, I was thinking how do I inspire the younger kids in Liberia,” Yonly said further.
“To make this trip, I did not have the money and have to start raising the first money by selling my cherished car in the process and also launched a gofundme for assistance,” he said.
When asked about the obstacles he faced during the journey, Abner said he did not experience technical problem. He however noted that at the time of the journey he had not flown for up to 600 hours.
According to him, the only area of challenge was with immigration he experienced in some countries such as France where his passport and other documents were seized from him.
Responding to a question on what the country stands to benefit from the expedition, Abner said one of the things it has done is to expose the aviation profession to the young people as well as seeing about developing the sector in the country that will lead the country bringing back its defunct airlines, Air
Lines, which according to him will open the country to the outside world.
He further said though the adventure has been focusing on him, he does not see it as a personal glory “but it is for the country and Africa because when they mention my name, they mention Liberia, they mention the citizens and Africa too”.
Abner said there are other Liberian pilots out there in the world but until their names and identities aren’t mentioned.
“You will not know them, but they are all Liberians well respected there but we have to come home to make it happen”.
After his remarks, several other persons spoke, extoling his brilliance and patriotism shown.
Captain Jerry Duannah, Jr, the only pilot with the Armed Forces of Liberia who spoke on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia(AFL) said he was personally touched by the expedition and happy that he could see a young Liberian undertaking such an undertaking.
He said the AFL High Command under the Chief of Staff has decided to honor him and will be presenting to him a merit award for his achievement.
A representative for the Women of Liberia said: “Today marks a very important day in the lives of every Liberian that we are seeing in our own lifetime, a young Liberian undertaking this very important journey that has put us on the map.”
She said the feat by Abner has defeated the insinuation that nothing better could come out of the young people of Liberia.
“We are proud mothers and it does not matter whether we are not the biological mother of this young man but we stand here as those who take care of the home front for every family. So this is something of joy to us”, she said.
On behalf of his family, his uncle, Isaac Yonly, a staff at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority said the family was “so proud and grateful for the blessings showered on our son that he could excel at this level to be an invaluable asset to the country.
“Son, you brought a lot of pride and dignity first to us, your parents and then to this great country. You have set a bar that cannot easily be beaten; indeed, you have created a story that will be remembered in the history of this country”, Yonly said.
He thanked the organizers for the honor ‘done to our son and Liberia, your efforts are appreciated”.
Prior to his journey the 37 year old Liberian born pilot in a motivational statement, said he dreamt not only of being a pilot but a source of inspiration.
While training, it occurred to me that instead of just learning how to fly, I could be a pacesetter and a source of inspiration for my generation – the millennial – to do something extraordinary,” he said.
He said he intends to leave a mark on Liberians, especially “my peers born after 1980 who have not seen a Liberian-born pilot flying a plane”.
“Our parents told us about Air Liberia flown by Liberian pilots. We never saw it. This is an eye-opener for them to know that dreams can be a reality if you set your sights on a goal and a dogged determination to achieve it.”