Klaus Holighaus

An article about Klaus Holighaus from the (now defunct) European Gliding News

In August 1994, Klaus Holighaus, aged only 54, lost his life in a fatal gliding accident during one of his cross-country flights into the Alps, starting from Samden in Switzerland. Search and rescue teams were alerted when he didn't return that evening, but the wreck of the glider, which had smashed into a mountain in the St. Gotthard area, wasn't found until two days later. The exact circumstances of the accident are not clear, but it is assumed that one major cause of this disaster was the deteriorating weather conditions on the day.

BRUNO GANTENBRINK remembers his close friend Klaus Holighaus, in this tribute to the man and the contribution he made to the International world of gliding. There are very few men in gliding history who have influenced our sport as deeply and as widely as Klaus Holighaus. Over his 25-year career, he gained an international reputation as engineer, entrepreneur and sportsman. Klaus Holighaus started his career in gliding as an engineer when he was a student at the University of Darmstadt. With two of his fellow students, Waibel and Lemke he developed and built a prototype of the DG36. This was just the beginning of his revolutionary glider designs. After he completed his University Diploma he joined Schempp-Hirth, one of the oldest glider manufacturing companies in Germany. Klaus began work as an employee then later took over the company, through a management buy out. As owner and general manager of Schempp-Hirth, he created some of the best performance gliders of our time. Is there anyone in the gliding world who is not familiar with the names of his sailplanes Cirrus, Nimbus, Ventus, Janus and perhaps, most popular of all, Discus? The achievements of Klaus Holighaus speak for themselves. In the past two decades a great percentage of competing sailplanes have come out of his factory in Kirchheim to be flown at international gliding competitions by competitors from nearly every participating nation. How can one describe the success of Klaus Holighaus as engineer and entrepreneur better, than to mention that at the 1994 German Gliding Championships at Neustadt Giewe, almost 50% of the competing gliders had been manufactured by Schempp-Hirth.

Parallel to his career as engineer, Klaus became an extremely successful competition and record holding pilot. Mainly flying in the Open Class, he flew all the German Nationals since 1968, winning no less than six of them. He became European Champion three times and finished in the top rankings of all nine World Championships he competed in. Klaus holds no less than 16 World Records in different categories--some of them in the double seater, either with his wife Brigitte, or his son Tilo. Klaus reached almost every goal which one can possibly set oneself in gliding. He was a member of the German National Gliding Team from 1969. This is before some of the younger members of the 1995 team had even been born! Klaus loved gliding more than anyone else I have ever met. Even in poor weather conditions, when it didn't even seem worth rigging, he would spend hours in the air. At our National Training Camps he was always the first to get airborne in the morning and often the last to land in the afternoon. He tried to explore every possible aspect of our sport. He felt his greatest enthusiasm was not in flying competitions or breaking records, but in exploring what he didn't know, what was possible and what nobody had ever done. I particularly remember his enthusiastic report on the extreme and thrilling conditions of flying in the Andes on his trip to Chile. Klaus Holighaus had many friends all over the world, all of whom will miss this man, who was full of positive ideas, profound knowledge and who above all, was a good sportsman.

More about the accident 

According to the Swiss Civil Aviation Authority, Klaus appears to have been flying too close a slope. Pictures of the scene suggest that he was attempting to fly through a small pass. At the time of his death, Klaus had logged 8,168 hours of soaring flight.