Retired Clarence businessman Ravinder K. Bansal returned from a six-week solo flight around the world last week – right on schedule, despite some glitches with the plane.
After being cooped up in his single-engine Cessna and "flying more in six weeks than most people fly in a year," his goal was to play golf, drink and play his drums. Check, check and double check.
"I've played five rounds of golf in a week and I've had enough to drink to last my lifetime," said Bansal.
Bansal is trying to raise enough funds to purchase an MRI machine for a hospital in his hometown in Ambala, India. His charity flight raised $160,000 toward his $750,000 goal. Bansal's sister-in-law died from cancer, and donations to the fundraiser will help the small Rotary Cancer Hospital in Ambala buy an MRI scanner so that it can detect cancer in patients earlier.
He said people are continuing to contribute toward the cause, a little at a time. If the online fundraiser gets close to its goal, Bansal said he will match the funds donated by others to buy the MRI machine.
Bansal, who has lived in the United States for the past 40 years and has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, is the former owner of AirSep, a medical oxygen therapy equipment company, which he sold for more than $170 million three years ago.
He spent $100,000 of his own money on his solo flight.
He said his trip to his hometown was "absolutely the best part" of the trip. Bansal said he was allowed to land in a restricted Air Force Base and received warmly by officers and given a police escort to the hospital and his home.
"They never allow a civilian airplane to land there with the exception of government officials," said Bansal. "It blew my mind."
He blogged about each leg of his trip on his website.
A low point came in a desert in the Middle East after he parked the plane in the sun in 150-degree heat.
"I got back in the plane and everything in the plane was almost melted. I thought I bought everything, but I didn't think of buying a window shade – for $10 or $20 – that was the most important thing," said Bansal.
There was another unexpected problem after Bansal arrived home.
He discovered someone has hacked into his email account and sent phishing messages to all of his email contacts asking for "a moneygram on his behalf." Bansal said on Monday he was getting hundreds of calls from all of his email contacts questioning what was going on.
"I think it happened when I was in Malaysia or the Philippines. All of these hotels don't have security on their internet. I used my email and somebody hacked it," said Bansal. "They are sending emails to people I haven't corresponded with in years. They even wrote to a college professor I haven't spoken to in 35 years."
The email from a hotmail account starts out with "Greetings" – no names, and asks, "I need you to do me a favor. Please reply when you get this." It is signed, "Regards Ravi."
If you take the bait and reply, the fake Ravi says he needs money sent to his cousin in Manila, Philippines, for an upcoming surgery. The email goes on to explain that the only accepted form of payment is through Moneygram and his attempts to send the Moneygram failed. The fake Ravi asks the friend to make the Moneygram transfer "from your end" and "I will have the money back to you when I get home by next week."
Bansal said not only are the hackers corresponding with everybody he knows, but they've also erased all of his email from the last three or four years.
"It is horrible. They even asked M&T Bank to transfer a million dollars. (The bank) thought I got caught by somebody and was being held for ransom. This is the first experience for me. I've traveled all over the world," said Bansal. He said all of his documents, his permits, his pilot's license and passport are at risk as well.
"I'm sure they have access to all of these things. So instead of drinking, I have to focus on this," said Bansal.
But he laughed and focused on the positive side, saying, "I am making contact with people I haven't talked to in years."