Tuesday, 29 November 2011

End of the Fire-Bombing Season: The Ferry Home

Kwambonumbi. Natal. Republic of South Africa.
Seppi Forrest, 76,000 Hectares.
Aircraft Thrush PT6.

I departed the fire-bombing strip at first light, as I had a long ferry back to home base.
The plan was to get back in a day.
I climbed steadily from sea level over the rising terrain of Zulu land towards the Drakensburg mountains, which were over 10,000 feet above sea level.
My plan was to find a gap and fly through it over to the Transvaal plains and take up a heading for Bloemfontein and stop for fuel.

As I approached the mountain range I could see it was covered in heavy cloud and at this time there was no way through.
I looked around for a farm to land on, getting down was now a priority to save fuel.
There was nothing but bush under me, I noticed a green patch on the side of the mountain and descended to get a look at it, making a fly pass, I reckon it was about 5 Hectares narrow but not too narrow with a slight rise up the hill and it seem to be clear of obstacles with what looked like a house at the top end.
I decided to go round for another look, as I came around, Fate stepped in ! as it does and I became committed to a landing.

A wall of hail stones as big as golf balls was descending down the mountain side, which was very serious and dangerous.
I set myself up for a short field approach and landing, reducing the airspeed back from 130 mph to 60 mph, I was hanging on the prop as I entered the field, just before the point of touchdown I went for reverse thrust and dropped onto the ground without much forward speed and stopped, I was immediately engulfed in hail stones wind and rain which took an hour to pass through.

Climbing out of the aircraft I found my hand gun and my trusty long pole and walked up the centre of the field, to check if it would be safe to taxi over it?

At the time I though it strange there was no animal tracks or droppings, domestic or otherwise not even a vehicle track, just a nice green field, which turned out to be remarkable level I would have no problems moving the aircraft.

The house  was really only an old round wooden hut, empty except for a few bits of rickety old furniture, and around the back of the hut, sitting back from it was a lonely grave site.
I was unable to read its inscription due to age but the gist of it was that a Boer rifleman is laid to rest here, killed defending his land from the invading British Forces, the name was Afrikaans but unreadable, dated, looked like 1901.

The grave site! in fact the whole area seemed well cared for, the grave stone was painted white possible in the last few months.
He is not forgotten ?

I have seen these sites from the aircraft before, littered around the country, all-ways miles away from any farms, no tracks to be seen, no spoor at all, but always painted white.

Back inside the hut I found a bible on the table, it was swollen and crispy with age. On the first page written in Afrikaans ( from my basic understanding) which I later entered into my flight log book.

Was the following:

Don't steal this book,
For fear of shame, for in it bears the owners name,
And when you die! The Lord may say.
"Where is this book you took this day"?
And if you say,
" You cannot tell",
The Lord will cast you straight to hell.

All the other entries were sadly unreadable. I'm sure it has a more spiritual meaning to the Afrikaans people.

I returned to the aircraft with the idea of checking the weather, unfortunately for me the mist on the mountain was very thick so it looked like an overnight stay.
I taxied the aircraft up to the hut and secured it by surrounding it with barbwire, which I carry for that purpose,
it saves it getting used as a rubbing post during the night and being damaged.

I then took my sleeping gear and food into the hut, about this time I became very aware of how quite it was, hardly a sound, that's not normal!
I ate my pack up and drank some water and settled down on my sleeping bag.

I must have gone off to sleep straight away?
I dreamed about men and women screaming, shouting, guns going off and crying, For me it was not a good night.
I awoke at dawn and  the jungle noises were back, making me feel a bit better, this place had me just a wee bit spooked.
I felt like an intruder who was being watched.
I put the table back in the same position as it was when I arrived and placed the bible on the table.
I wrote my name on a 5 Rand note and placed it in the bible.
For the cleaner?

I secured the hut best I could, climbed into my aircraft and departed, climbing up the side of the mountain until I saw a way through.
I set a heading for Bloemfontein, the rest of the journey was uneventful.
Back at base I spoke with other pilots and told them where the field was, just in case they needed it. 
A few months  later I flew passed the field but couldn't find it! over the next few years none of the company pilots reported seeing it either.  How cools that?

Each day, learn something new and you achieve something different, and really experience the day?  it will never come again