Hardy Furer was a familiar figure in the skies over Nepal for nearly two decades from 1966-1984 flying his single-engine Pilatus Turbo Porter ferrying school books for UNICEF, Merino sheep to Jumla or iodised salt to remote districts.
Unable to stay away, Hardy had returned to Nepal in 2000 after being promised a job ferrying tourists to the Everest View Hotel in Syangboche. But that job never materialised and Hardy began to suffer money and health problems. The reluctance of the government to grant him a long-term visa frustrated him and pushed him to depression. He was found dead in his rented flat in Baudha on 16 November and was cremated in a simple Buddhist ceremony that day.
When lung problems, due to many years of excessive smoking worsened and an operation became imperative, it was his Nepali friends who came to his rescue. Dr Damodar Pokhrel agreed to remove one lung and then part of another lung free of cost. His old friend Krishna Lama of the Civil Aviation Authority stayed with Hardy at Bir Hospital until he recuperated. Lama's eyes glistened as he described Furer's condition before his death. And it was in the house of Shaligram Pudasini that he died.
For those of us who knew him before he fell upon hard times Hardy was an extraordinary character: at home with classical music, especially opera and European art. He opened 30 airfields in previously inaccessible areas of Nepal, among them Simikot, Bajhang, Dhorpatan, Ramechhap. He drew up the earliest pilot's charts for approaches and departures for these airports because he was always the first to make a test landing.
Like fellow-Swiss Pilatus pilot, Emil Wick, Hardy was a legend even in his time. He was idiosyncratic and would sometimes fly off and leave his passengers standing in the tarmac if they didn't arrive on time. He never took chances and never had an accident even though he sometimes flew 10 hours a day. Once his engine cut out on an early morning ferry and he had to glide back to the airport in Dhangadi.
I never missed the chance to fly with Hardy Furer even though I was terrified of flying. He was often referred to as a 'White Knuckle Pilot'-it was the passenger's knuckles that were white, not Hardy's. He was blunt, provocative and spoke his mind. This often got him into trouble and was the reason he quit the United Nations for whom he flew development flights on the UN's blue-tailed Pilatus Turbo-porter, 9N-AAW (also known as 'Alpha Whiskey').
Hardy was devastated when the UN decided to go for a Twin Otter and turn over its flight needs to Royal Nepal Airlines in 1984. He lingered for a few months in Kathmandu hoping that reasons to stay back would turn up. He began to drink heavily, his friends tried to help him but failed. Hardy reluctantly returned to Switzerland where he spent some time in therapy.
He loved art and collected paintings of Lain Singh Bangdel and Laxman Shrestha among others and by the time he returned to Nepal had himself become an accomplished artist. Hardy has left behind books and paintings now locked in his room and it would be fitting if they were distributed to the Nepali friends who cared for him.
In his small rented room in Sanepa he spent time painting, puffing endlessly on cigarettes waiting for a job and a visa that never came. He was trying to work on a memoirs of the early days of aviation in Nepal.
Most of his foreign friends were not aware of his financial problems, his loneliness and physical suffering during the last years of his life. And it was his Nepali friends who cared for him towards the end.
Flying into the past with Hardy Furer, #24
Emil wick's adventures in a Pilatus Porter, #7