It was just over two months since I last flew a plane when I had my first day back at work in Arnhem Land. To make sure things were exciting enough for me on my first day back, I had a check flight with the Chief Pilot to welcome me back to flying. This involves fun stuff like stalls, steep turns and simulated emergencies like an engine failure after take off, engine failure in flight, partial engine failure, engine fire, etc. All went well albeit being a bit rusty which was to be expected and the Chief, being gracious gave me the proverbial nod and I was allowed back in the air alone again.
At the end of the flight, I tried cancelling my SAR (Search and Rescue) time on the HF radio, but was unable to raise anybody. Upon getting out of the plane, it was plane (excuse the pun) to me why I was unable to raise anybody on HF radio. It had broken off during the flight and was apparently flailing about wildly and rubbing against the rudder and dangling dangerously close to the elevator. My initial thoughts went to the story one of
my instructors told me about the HF antenna breaking and jamming the elevator on one of his flights, making flying and in particular, the prospect of landing a somewhat exciting adventure. Fortunately he was able to yank it free with the controls in the cockpit before he had to land the plane. So my first flight back in Arnhem Land practicing simulated emergencies almost turned into a real one.
Day 5 of flying in Arnhem Land involved transporting a body in a coffin down to Yilpirra (AKA Baniyala). It was interesting to watch all the ceremony involved in getting the coffin onto the plane. It was also encouraging to see them all stand around the door of the plane and pray after the traditional ceremony had been completed. Arriving at Yilpirra involved two orbits over the town before landing, then more ceremony to get the body off the plane and into the car. I haven’t done a coffin flight since I left to work in Numbulwar 18 months ago.
Weather to go or not…
Day 7 was a sit and wait for social service workers at two different locations. While waiting for them to finish their business at the second place (Yilparra) a Balanda (white fella) came and asked me if I was keen to go soon, as there was bad weather coming in from the south. I couldn’t see the Bureau of Meteorology Radar since there is no internet or phone reception in the Homelands, so I had to trust the guy and we hurried up the meeting and got going. We made it out no problem, but it wasn’t the rain from the south that concerned us. Only 15 mins into the flight we came up against a wall of water that ran from the coast to Maningrida (almost 300kms) with no way through. So the smart thing to do was set down at Wandawuy and wait a while. We tried again and the wall of water changed to a murky drizzle with lots of fun lightning to keep us entertained. We made it to Garthalala (another 20 min flight) which was only about 16-17 mins from our destination.
Daylight was against us as we waited for the storm to move north, but it didn’t look like it would be clear of Gove before the end of daylight, so we decided to call it a day in Garthalala. Fortunately the Community car was available to use and a willing Yolngu driver drove 5 of us 2 hours on muddy dirt road into Gove. I was in the middle in the front, so after sitting in a warped and uncomfortable position for 2 hours so the driver could change gears, I really appreciated the luxury of flight (the same drive takes under 20 mins by air). The driver was very good and knew the road very well. We invited him in for tea that night as he didn’t know if he was going to get any where he was staying (actually didn’t know if the person he was going to stay with was going to be home). He was happy to drive us in as he was promised two full tanks of diesel which he would use to drive back, collect some family, drive back into Gove and do some shopping (groceries). The passengers to their credit were all in high spirits despite not being able to get to their destination. I had a decision to make: to stay in the community overnight (which apparently has decent accommodation, albeit probably no fly screens and the driver said the mozzies are quite bad at the moment), or drive home and have a good night’s rest in my own bed. I chose to sleep in my own bed and had a good night’s rest listening to Sam cough half the night. Bah!
A door opens up…
Day 8 (today) involved organising (well Dan the Laynha Air manager did most of this) how to get back down to Garthalala to collect the plane that was left there the night before. I got dropped off by another pilot on the way to do another sit and wait for the same passengers I had the day before. They were still happy to fly again the next day, what troopers!
Part of the locking mechanism on the sliding rear door of the Airvan failed the day before which was blowing a gale onto one of the passengers (until they moved seats). I didn’t notice it was so bad the day before thanks to the high work load. So today I had to nurse the plane home under 80kts with a partially non functioning door.
Today I helped load two planes with the belongings of ours and the Purdeys to go to Elcho Island. I also helped unload the belongings of a family moving into town from Lake Evella. Hot work moving barrels in the confines of a small plane with no air movement.
Yep. I’ve had moments of “man I love this job”, “whose idea was this to move house?”, “ oh, that? Yeah, that should polish out” and “wow, what a great lightning shot that would have been, wish I had my good camera in the plane for that one!”
Kim’s thought after I tell her about my excitement is “I’m so glad we have so many people praying for the safety of our MAF pilots”. She just told me that now. Hmm… I agree.
Welcome back to Arnhem Land Jase.