For a Belgian-British teenager hoping to become the youngest person to fly solo around the world, a visit to Labrador this week was not just one of the final stops of his journey but also a nod to his family's aviation history.
Mack Rutherford arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Wednesday, greeted at the airstrip by the public and members of 5 Wing Goose Bay — and a water cannon salute. He was given a commemorative 5 Wing coin, a copy of Labrador history magazine Them Days and a piece of the mineral labradorite.
Rutherford, 17, said it has been thrilling to be met with excitement on his arrivals throughout his journey.
"It's [something] I probably won't ever experience again," he said.
Rutherford began his journey in March when he was 16 and expected to be finished in two to three months but problems with visas, paperwork and permits caused him some delays — he was stuck in Crete for a month and a half and then stuck again in Dubai for another month and a half. He'd hoped to finish the trip while still 16 but the delays made it impossible — he turned 17 on June 21.
"It was sort of a mixed bag because it's nice to have your birthday and all that … but I was hoping to get back when I was still 16. But you can't do anything about it," said Rutherford.
The current record holder, Travis Ludlow, set the record when he was 18 years old. If all goes as planned, Mack will finish his journey in just under a week, returning to his starting point of Sofia, Bulgaria, when he's still more than year younger than Ludlow was.
Rutherford said the first step in planning a journey like his is to pin down the route.
"You can't start to go anywhere if you don't know where you're going," he said. "I chose two points opposite each other … then I just found a route in between them. The route has since then changed a lot but that is just the initial thing."
Rutherford flies an ultralight called a Shark, which reaches cruising speeds of 300 km/h. Rutherford says he usually flies about 5,500 feet above the ground — low enough to take in the view of all of the countries he flies over.
A family of aviators
Growing up in an aviation family, Rutherford has been flying almost his entire life, and says he first held the controls of a plane when he was seven years old. He started flying more frequently with his parents when he was ten and got his pilot's licence when he was just 15.
At the time, he was the youngest pilot in the world, he said — and now he's following in the footsteps of his older sister, Zara, who completed a solo flight around the world earlier this year, becoming the youngest female to do so.
"When I got my licence I knew I wanted to do something special in aviation but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. But once my sister flew around the world, I knew that I also wanted to fly around the world," said Rutherford.
"She did give me quite a few hints … if there's clouds or mountain ranges, make sure you can always go around and you can land somewhere else. Don't get yourself into a situation where you can get yourself out of it."
In preparing for his journey, Rutherford completed two transatlantic flights with his father, Sam, a pilot who "ferries" planes — transporting them for other people.
Sam Rutherford survived a deadly crash near Makkovik in 2019 when a blizzard hit, leaving him stranded on a mountainside for hours while a ground search and rescue team from Makkovik made its way to his location.
On his way to Greenland on Thursday, Mack Rutherford flew over Makkovik to pay homage to the people who rescued his father.