Friday, September 08, 2006

 

Meer nieuws uit Bangui

Hi Hans,

Finally I got around to sending some stories back again. I think I was about to tell you about a medical evacuation of a Central African pastor of a free protestant church (I think it is some sect) from Mobaye on the 26th of July. This church seems to have some kind of headquarters in Paris since Tanneguy got a phone call from there. They were asking the price for the evacuation and I actually gave them the mission price which is, as you know, not that much from Mobaye to Bangui - less than CFA 100.000 per person (CFA 2000 = 3 euro).
In the beginning it was obviously too much, since they said they would still wait. The pastor and his wife had only been in Mobaye for a couple of weeks and it seems that he fell sick almost immediately, when he had gotten there. Anyhow, a few days later we got another call and they said it was urgent now, could we take him to Bangui.
The next morning I left Bangui and what a surprise when I landed in Mobaye and got off the plane. The man was comatose and would not even open an eye to blink. So we carried him to the plane and put him in the centre seat with the back rest reclined, his wife beside him. I actually thought that he would probably die in the plane and tried to stay as low as the winds were permitting but also high enough to get some ground speed.
I have to jump back to Mobaye quickly. At the airfield there were naturally lots of people. Since mobile phones work in Mobaye, there was one person able to call their people in Bangui. I told them to be at the airport in Bangui at 12:00 o'clock sharp, waiting at the ‘bureau de piste’ since I would arrange for them to come with the vehicle to the plane to pick up their sick pastor.
I got to Bangui and I stopped the engine exactly a 12:00 hrs. I was in for the next surprise. There was not a single person waiting at the airport. My mistake was not to get the phone number, but would you expect the people to be late to pick up a person at the airport who seems to be dying? I talked to the fire brigade at the airport and they called in their ambulance, which took the pastor to the hospital. I taxied the plane to the aeroclub and after I had secured it and ordered a coke, there was the third surprise for the day. A man came with a taxi and asked me where the sick pastor was. The time was a quarter to one. All I managed to say was that he was already at the hospital before I had to turn away, so I would not loose my temper with him. Normally, there are only three bad surprises in a row but this one had a fourth one. It did not come so much as a surprise to me though, when I was told the next day that the pastor had died in the early morning of meningitis. I quickly checked my vaccination card and consulted a doctor from the French embassy to make sure that I would be safe since meningitis is quite contagious.

The next interesting flight was only 2 days later. I went to Bangassou on the 28th of July taking off into a nice blue sky with hardly a cloud to be seen, a rare occasion in the rainy season. We got to Bangassou and it was getting hot already when we landed before 10:00 o'clock. The passengers for the return trip were two Spaniards, who had visited the bishop in Bangassou and had their flight back to Europe on the evening of the 29th with Air France. So we took off happily in Bangassou after I had eaten my sandwich and drunk my coke that was supplied by the bishop himself.
After an hour flight I had my first echoes in the weather radar and I heard Ryan, a South African King Air pilot, on the radio telling the controller that he was left off his track due to weather. Now he was at FL220 and I was at FL100. So I started to prepare myself and the passengers for a rough ride into Bangui. I had not yet anticipated how rough it was really going to be.
When I finally reached the TMA boundary, about 65 NM east of Bangui, my radar screen seemed to be showing more red than black just ahead of me. I was not amused as the British would put it. We continued since I could still make out some holes in the clouds to get through visually and with the help of the weather radar. The weather radar is a really good instrument but there is one thing it can not do : the radar can not pick up what is going on behind the already existing echoes. So when we passed the first line of CBs there were more to come and they became even thicker. I decided to descend below the cloud base since it is not very comfortable to sit in the grey, bouncing around. Below the base I could at least spot the heavy showers and the turbulence was not so bad. So at about 3500 feet we were below the clouds, trying to find a way through. I avoided the heavy showers and was amazed by the cracking on the radio which was created by the lightning around us.
The tower told me to check my microphone because I was coming in broken. That did amuse me slightly. Finally I was already a couple of miles south of my intended track. It had looked like a good idea to try to circumnavigate the storms to the south but turned out to have been the wrong choice. The controller in Bangui told me that it seemed to him, that the weather was moving southwards. This is very unusual since 98 times out of a 100, it moves from east to west. Anyway, now I knew why the sky was thickening more and more to the south.
So the only option was to head back north, find a way through the storms again and try to reach Bangui from the north. By now there was rain and lightning everywhere around us. But thanks to the weatherradar and a lighter spot in the clouds we got through and headed for the final approach fix DINDA, about 11 NM north of the runway. By the time I got to DINDA though, the thunderstorms also got to the airport. Just ten minutes earlier there had basically been no significant weather at the airport and now there were heavy showers of rain and the wind gusting to 25 knots, of course at 300 degrees. So the controller was giving me a clearance for the ILS to runway 35. I declined that since that would have taken me back into the clouds just south of the airport and I was happily flying along now under quite high ceilings with only rain cutting down the visibility. So I asked for the DINDA VOR/DME approach for runway 17 and circle to land. As if things were not bad enough already the VOR quit doing its job and the needle was useless. So there was the choice of getting onto the ILS but that would probably mean getting into thick cloud again, or letting the GPS guide me to the runway. Since I could see the ground I only needed to get to the airport and I did not have to descend all the way to the minimum. So I decided to give it a try with the GPS. When I got the runway in sight, I was nicely lined up and my spirits were getting a bit higher again. I just stayed right next to the runway with it being on my side on the circling and flew a very short approach. The landing was ok, given the wind and runway conditions and there were three happy faces in the aeroplane when I shut down the engine. We did not get off the plane for a couple of minutes because we would have been soaking wet within seconds.
That was one of these days when I remember my instructor in South Africa saying : 'It is better to sit on the ground staring into the sky wishing to be up there, than being in the sky looking for the ground wishing to be down there ..'
Next time I will tell you about the problem the plane has been giving me over the last few weeks.

Greetings,

Mario

PS: Usually I do as you did. But this morning I just wanted to reply quickly.

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