Laura was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As a young child, her family fled a country in political turmoil until eventually finding a home in South Africa. She matriculated from Pretoria High School for Girls in 2003 and began her career in aviation in the South African Air Force (SAAF), as a pupil pilot where she received her military pilot wings.
In 2007, she obtained her Helicopter Private Pilot Licence at Starlite Aviation Training Academy, Durban and went on to complete her military rotor wing conversion course at the SAAF’s 87 Helicopter Flying School in Bloemfontein. She didn’t stop there. Laura holds a helicopter and airplane multi-engine Commercial Pilot Licence in both South Africa and in the USA.
Still hungry for knowledge, Laura studied at the South African Military Academy, obtaining a Bachelor’s in Military Studies in Technology and Defence Management, through the University of Stellenbosch, majoring in Aeronautical Science. She is fluent in English, French and Lingala (a Congolese dialect).
Laura flew as an operational SAAF helicopter pilot for 15 Squadron, Air Force Base Durban, flying mountain and offshore rescue, firefighting and undersling operations, night specialist operations (NVG), VIP and VVIP transportation which included flying the South African President. It was here Laura realised where her passion lay – saving lives.
While in the SAAF, Laura flew in five peacekeeping and enforcement operational tours in the DRC under the United Nations, as well as an African Union operational deployment in Uganda.
Since 2012, Laura has been flying for Starlite Aviation Operations, mainly in the medevac sector. She was based in Kosovo for almost two years, flying medical evacuations and a variety of operations for the European Union Rule of Law Mission.
Laura is currently based in Bamako, Mali, continuing to fly medical evacuations with a strong team of fellow aviators, highly trained doctors and paramedics on 24/7 standby. In addition, she flies passengers and European dignitaries in support of the European Union Training Mission. Laura is the Starlite Base Safety Coordinator for the Mali operation.
The highlight of Laura’s career was during one of her operational tours in the DRC: “I had a moment of an immense emotional connection to a group of people we were relocating away from a volatile war-torn area. Their screams of joy and relief during that flight when they realised that they were safe from danger, was a moment I will never forget.”
Laura’s Awards and Accolades
In 2013, Laura received an award at the South African Most Influential Women in Business and Government banquet, as runner up in the General Sector category. In 2014, she was awarded the Flight Safety International Bell 206 Scholarship at the Whirly-Girls – International Women Helicopter Pilots’ Banquet at the Heli-Expo held in Anaheim, California. In 2018 Laura was named by the Kingdom of Netherlands, as one of South Africa’s 50 most inspiring women in the STEM industry.
Laura’s Personal Achievements
Laura’s achievements are not limited to those involving her career. Her global explorations have included completing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk. She spent 17 days walking over 400 km alone, through northern Spain from Oviedo, past the city of Santiago de Compostela where the pilgrimage officially ends. As if this was not enough, she then continued to a lighthouse on the edge of the Indian ocean in the town of Finisterre, known as ‘the end of the world’. When asked what her next big planned adventures include her response: “Climbing Kilimanjaro, taking part in more physically enduring Warrior Races and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.”
Laura’s Career Goals and Her Aspirations for Women Globally
Laura’s future career goals include, continuing to fly as much as possible and grow in this industry. Flying is her passion. A further goal for this ‘unstoppable’ woman, is to do more philanthropic work, be involved with NGOs that have access to helicopters and do pro-bono flights for them. In her own words: “I ‘somehow’ want to be involved in flying for an organisation like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; delivering medication and supplies to remote areas.”
When asked how she would inspire women to consider a career in aviation: “It is one thing to tell a girl child that she can do and be anything but it is so much more impactful to show her. Girls do not often see themselves in certain careers. However, once they are shown the possibilities and opportunities, it encourages them to broaden outlook aim for a career beyond what they had ever wished was possible.”
What changes she would like to see on the African continent and in fact globally was what I really wanted to know from this inspiration young woman: “My aspiration for humanity is to acknowledge and respect women more, as great contributors to society, to see them being empowered have the freedom to choose their destinies. Also, empathy or rather the lack thereof for others in is of great concern to me.”
Laura’s Mentors and Support System
My final question to Laura was who her mentors were when she was growing up and on her ‘life journey’ thus far: “I have been mentored and inspired by many people during my career; a great group of female aviator girlfriends from around the globe who I lean on and draw strength from. Watching them succeed makes me happy and encourages me to reach greater heights in my career. I also have friends and family who are my life cheerleaders. There are pilots from Starlite, that have supported and encouraged me, even since my SAAF days.
My mother is definitely my mentor. She is a driven, independent, beautiful, strong woman, who did an amazing job at raising eight very diverse children on her own, after my father passed away in the year 2000. She is a great example of a true woman’s strength and grace.”
Although Laura has a full schedule, when she does find time to relax she plays and watches tennis and spends time with her ‘large’ family and close friends.