Former Afghan refugee flies solo to empower young women

Captain Shaesta Waiz is pictured in front of her beach craft bonanza airplane at Nadi International Airport last week Thursday. Photo: ANA SOVA.

By ANA SOVA

When she left Daytona Beach Florida, United States on May 13th taking off in her beach craft bonanza to fly around the world solo, Captain Shaesta Waiz attempted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean twice.

On her first attempt, the High Frequency (HF) antenna of her plane which she said is used to make radio calls with different radio stations around the world while transitioning from being over land to over water, sheared off when she was about 300 miles across the ocean.

This dangerous encounter forced the 29 year old Afghan-American pilot to turn the plane around and take an emergency landing at the first airport available, Saint Pierre Airport in Canada.

“The Atlantic Ocean, is one of the dangerous oceans out there because the weather changes instantly, the temperatures are cold, it’s mother nature you never what’s going to happen. When I was about 300 miles into the ocean, this antenna shears off hitting the airplane and I can’t communicate with anyone, my only form of communication was now gone,”

“I looked down and I see waves crashing below me and I’m at 7000 feet, it’s a big reality and I looked out, I didn’t see anyone, not a single boat nor land, nothing, just me and the ocean. It was about a two hour flight when I turned around doing all of my procedures preparing the airplane I finally get hold of air traffic control and informed them I was landing at the airport requesting for a mechanic when I get there,” Waiz said.

Captain Waiz is pictured with customs officials while arriving into Nadi  International Airport last week Thursday. Photo: ANA SOVA.

Even as she was wondering about the customs clearance and other hurdles that the unscheduled landing would bring about, the customs agent at the airport, on seeing her alone, quipped: “Hello, where is the pilot?”

“I’m like hi I’m the pilot and he was like no really where’s the pilot? And I said I promise you I’m the pilot and explained to him what I was doing. He then asked: do your parents know that you’re doing this? I said of course they know and he again asked: is someone making you do this? I assured him it was on my own free will”.

Captain Waiz, the youngest certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan is flying to 30 different stops, 24 countries across five continents to land and help inspire, empower young girls and together, share and promote the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

She arrived in Fiji last week Thursday already covering 18 stops and will be covering 11 more before she flies home to Daytona Beach from Mobile City in Alabama.

Captain Waiz said as she sat there at Saint Pierre Airport she pondered on whether she should give up on her journey.

“I sat there and I thought you know if I want to give up, now is the time to give up then I don’t have to cross the Atlantic Ocean again and I’m still on the side of the United States. If this is too much for me to handle, now is the time to say something,”

“Then I said no, I have to be brave, there are so many girls out there that have heard about what I’m going to do and they’re waiting for someone to show them that women can be courageous and do things like getting on an airplane and flying it around the world,” she said.

Captain Waiz was born in a refugee camp and moved to the United States in 1987 when she was barely a year old to escape the Soviet-Afghan war.

Her grandparents, Ibrahim and Tehera and her father Fahim and uncles Hasib and Mustafa and her aunt, Sophia escaped to Pakistan shortly after the war broke out in Afghanistan in 1979.

“I grew up with my parents and five sisters in Richmond, California. We lived in an underprivileged school district where substitute teachers, sharing textbooks with classmates, and watching friends drop out of high school was the norm”.

Captain Waiz who is the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree said her family was really poor growing up in a family of six girls trying to start a new life in America after escaping her war-torn homeland.

“I really thought this life had nothing to offer me, I’m not even going to try. When I found aviation it just pushed me every single day and I want to show people that you don’t have to be from any background, you don’t have to come from high society or have wealth to pursue your dreams, you just have to believe in it and go for it and understand that there are going to be days where you will want to give up, it means you will have to keep going,” she said.

Captain Waiz said this is the message she has been passing on to young women she has met along her solo flight journey around the world.

Check out this article published in 1987 by the Chicago Tribune about the start of Captain Waiz’s family journey to America when her grandparents and father escaped to Pakistan.