Tuesday, August 22, 2006

 

Mario in de C.A.R. ... het vervolg

Hi Hans

As promised I sat down to write some of the fun stuff down for you. The passengers for today cancelled the flight because Afrique-air has lost all their luggage in Tripoli and it will arrive earliest next Sunday. What a nice start of a 2 week stay in Central Africa.
The first month here was not very hectic. I got my validation within 11 days. I had a lot of flights but all went well. The plane was behaving properly and the weather was still posing no problems.The weather started to get worse and I had my first encounter with thunderstorms on the 1st of July. I went to Bangassou with 4 passengers and wanted to fly to Mobaye the same day to spend 2 nights there, before going back to Bangui. When I quit Bangassou, I called Mobaye on HF radio and was told that the weather was still fine there. On the way to Bangassou I had passed some very high towering cumuli and was afraid that they might have developed into Cumulonimbus, the thunderstorm clouds. Since it is only a one hour flight from Bangassou to Mobaye I went. I discovered that the clouds had actually already developed into thunderstorms and were just 30 km east of Mobaye. So on comes the weather radar to try and find a hole between the storms. It looked promising to the south and I could make out the curves of the Ubangi river, which are just a couple of kilometres to the south-east of the airfield. I also descended in order to remain outside the clouds, making it easier for me to visually see the heavy rain and avoid it. Altogether there were 3 storm cells that I could see around me. The rain had started and there was lightning all around me. I still managed to land safely in Mobaye with the closest storm cell just at the southern bank of the river, which is about 2 or 3 km from the airfield. We quickly secured the plane and hurried into the car as the rain started to pour down on us.

On the 8th of July I was supposed to fly with the Archbishop of Bangui and the Bishop from Metz, France to Bamba. Bamba is an airfield about ten kilometres from the border with Cameroon. The two bishops were supposed to visit a hospital in a village which is one and a half hour by car from the airfield. The weather on the morning of the 8th was not looking too good. We had thunderstorms the whole night before and the storms were only beginning to clear when I got to the airport at 06:00 hrs. The satellite image did also not look very promising as there was another system of thunderstorms approaching Bamba from the northeast.
One problem was that the Bishop from Metz had to get back to Bangui the same day, because he had to catch the Air France flight in the evening. I had to tell him that I could not promise that we would be able to return in the afternoon, due to difficult weather. That was certainly enough for him to politely refrain from coming. Furthermore I told the Archbishop that the flight could be quite turbulent. Still he wanted to go and along with him came one more person.
We were finally able to take off at 10:20 hrs local time. I had filed a flight plan requesting flight level 80. Soon after take off we entered clouds and I was hoping that we would get on top of these clouds once we reached FL 80. Unfortunately there was no sign of the sun there and I requested a climb to FL 100. Once we got there we still could not make out the sun. We were in thick cloud and it was raining quite a bit. The little aeroplane was shaken a bit in the turbulence. I looked at the Bishop and his companion and could see that they were not very happy. I assured them that everything was fine and that we would soon be back in te sunshine. I did not really keep my promise because out of the 2 hours flight time, we spent more than one and a half in cloud and rain. It was quite tiring to fly the plane because the autopilot is not working and I had to hand-fly it all the way. Finally at about 12:00 hrs, after passing a few thunderstorms along the way, we were able to see the ground as the clouds started to thin. We landed at Bamba at about 12:20 hrs and 20 minutes later the thunderstorms came in as well. But we were safely on the ground. After we had landed, they admitted that they had been a little afraid.
The flight back to Bangui the following day was uneventful.

On the 14th of July I had to fly from Bangassou to Mboki and Zemio and then back to Bangassou to continue further to Bangui. I took off in Bangassou at about 07:00 hrs with two passengers for Mboki and one for Zemio. I had arrived in Bangassou the day before and while still in flight had told Mboki on HF radio, that I would be arriving there at about 10:00 hrs the following morning. Father Theo in Bangassou had told them again in the afternoon of that same day, that I would be coming to Mboki the next morning at 10:00.
The weather was very good and the flight to Mboki uneventful. Then the surprise as I flew low over the airfield to make sure that the runway was clear. I could see nobody at the airfield and the runway was still barricaded. I turned towards the village and flew low over the village a few times. I finally saw a car driving towards the airfield, but it stopped at the beginning of the runway and the two people only got out of the car to look at the barricaded runway. Finally after having waited for 20 minutes I decided to continue to Zemio as I did not want to waste fuel that I would need later on. After I had arrived in Zemio I was told by the sisters there, that I could fly back to Mboki now as the runway has been cleared. Unfortunately I did not have enough fuel to make another trip to Mboki and the two passengers for Mboki were not happy because they had to take the car. It still is a long drive from Zemio to Mboki.
After I had departed Zemio I told Bangassou on HF radio that I would get there at 12:25 hrs. Unfortunately father Theo was not on the radio. So I told the responding person about my arrival. The problem with HF radio is that it is not always very clear and 12 sounds quite similar to 2 in French. The person on the radio in Bangassou did not know that I would say 14:25 as my time of arrival if I meant 2 in the afternoon. So – in the end - when I got to Bangassou the runway was still blocked and the people were having their lunch instead of waiting for me. After flying low over the cathedral in Bangassou I could see the cars speeding to the airfield and I thought about the abandoned supper and smiled.
After all the excitement I took three passengers in Bangassou for Bangui. Everything was fine except that I noticed a very high rate of charge on the ammeter. After 20 minutes the battery was still being charged with a high rate and I decided to switch off the alternator to avoid the battery being cooked. I had to switch off all electrical equipment to save the battery energy for getting into Bangui as it looked like it would be an IFR approach.Because the radio didn’t need that much power from the battery I was able to contact Bangui 50 NM out. I told them that I had no alternator and that my battery might quit on me, leaving me without radio contact with Bangui Tower. Luckily that did not happen ánd I was able to fly a visual approach. At Minair we discovered that the battery had already been in the aeroplane for almost 3 years. The whole thing happened on the first flight after the 50 hrs maintenance but the battery only needs to be checked every 100 hrs.
Next time I will tell you about a medical evacuation from Mobaye. It was a pastor of some free church. Further I will tell you about my encounter with a heap of CB’s which were just between the TMA boundary and the airport.

Best regards,

Mario

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