Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Rand Airport (part two)

Cessna Agwagon

Rand Airport

South Africa

What to do?
I got one of the farm men to get a bucket of water and go and put the Zulu girls hand's in it and tell her to keep them in the water and bring me what was left of the acid and bottle, without burning himself !
I poured what was left of it into my thermos and sealed it.
I then went to the Mother; who had given up ? she was singing the cleansing song, softly to her baby in Afrikaans, as she gently poured water over her, (it's a pre-burial song).

I told the Mother to get a damp sheet and wrap her wee baby in it ? tightly, so she can't move?
All of a sudden the Mother came good! she asked me ! what was I going to do ?" I said "I was going to fly her baby to Rand Hospital ? where they will save her life" (a bit of a white lie ? what could I say?) "so hurry please ?" after that she was great! still crying? but great, I made her re-tighten the sheet even though the baby started to cry out loud again.  I couldn't risk her being able to move? there's not a lot of spare room in the cockpit of the Agwagon! I was going to strap her to my chest harness and hope she doesn't move about to much, at the wrong time!

I told the Mother to bring the baby to the aircraft and get one of the men to bring a bucket of water along with her, Climbing into the cockpit I strapped myself in and whilst the Mother held her baby, I strapped her to my chest harness, the wee girl was quite now, but I could feel her laboured breathing,
I covered the babies head and got the Mother to pour water gently all over her, which made her howl !  for me a good sign?
I told the Mother to "get the Zulu girl and your husband and bring them to the hospital", I started my engine, and the crowd that had gathered from the farm moved back, completing my pre-take off checks, I waited for the engine gauges to move towards the green, I went for full power! the noise without the protection of my helmet was murder, I was airborne in seconds and reduced the power to climb power, I climbed up to 700 feet and had a quick look at Rand Airport, getting myself a direct heading to the runway , the circuit was full, at least 10 training aircraft ?  like bees around a honey pot!

I descended down to my previous clearance, (not above 250 feet) and took up a heading for the runway, I flicked my lights and beacon on, leaving the power setting at climb power, for best speed!
I just hope the boss got through to the airport?

I was within the air traffic circuit in minutes; none of the aircraft seemed to be giving way? I saw one aircraft down the runway taxing after landing, with two on final approach,
there was a taxiway parallel and on the far side of the active runway, it was clear, so that was my landing spot, the two aircraft on finals hadn't seen me, my plan was to pass across and below and in front of them.
I could feel the laboured breathing and the patter of her heart beat, of my wee charge, against my chest, there was no stopping now.

I was confident that as soon as the guys on approach saw me?  they would give me right of way? unfortunately for me, the angle I was approaching at, was outside their area of concern, they were looking straight down the runway concentrating on getting their approach and landing right.

I was streaking at 150 knots across the base leg, My plan was to pass just below and in front of them sidslipping at the same time loosing height, pulling off the power and going for a steep turn to kill my speed, in the steep turn I would pull on full flap, which would further reduce my forward speed and lower my stall speed.
All went to plan until I found I couldn't reach the flaps due to the baby on my chest, so change of plan ?  I violently rolled the aircraft left and right with heavy use of the rudder, placing it on the main wheels, onto the taxi way with the tail up high to create drag and reduce my speed.

Just at that moment; I saw the tower fire a red flare and give me a green, nows there's a win! a bit late, but a win anyway, boss must have contacted them ?.
Good thing nobody was using this taxiway? as I was using more than I had planned! I applied gently braking at first and once the rear wheel was firmly on the ground, I went for hard braking to control the forward speed. Up in front of me was  an old Land Rover with a red cross on it as I approached, it turned on its flashing light and led me off the taxiway to a waiting ambulance, there's another win?
Opening my cockpit the paramedics cut the girl from my harness and took her into the ambulance, I climbed out to wait and after a while they called me in, the wee girl had a fluid bag attached ,and her wounds were covered in some sort of gel and she was in an oxygen tent, (boy did she look ill?)

They said "she was stable but poorly and they were going to take her to hospital",they asked me for "her details?" just then I thought "Hell" I don't even know her name? I gave them the farm name and said "the Mother was on her way to the hospital with another young girl also burnt from the acid in my thermos" which they took away with them. they sped away siren blaring.

The time was only 0830 the whole thing took less than an hour, I feel like I had flown a 10 hour sorty in a steam bath, I was shattered, I sank to the ground under my wing, out of the sun.
I stayed there until the tower sent for me and invited me for coffee,
So I headed for the tower to explain my actions and as it happens they were really good about the whole thing ! saying "that the real emergency training was good for them all". Not really sure if they would have said that? if a couple of aircraft had collided, so I was off the hook! great ? Then the phone rings its Boss Terry? he asks about "the little girl? me ? and then his aircraft "in that order, as all my answers were positive, I was off the hook there as well? Terry told me to stay the night at the aeroclub and he would see me tomorrow, after I finish todays spraying s jobs?

At the end of the season I returned to the spraying in Europe, Boss Terry kept me informed of the young girls progress and when I returned to Africa and ended up on the same farm to spray.
I was invited up to the house for a coffee break, the Father greeted me on the stoop and said there was somebody who would like to meet me?
He called and the young girl ran out and stopped in front of me, She was holding my thermos!
She was terribly disfigured, no bottom lip? I could only imagine the other scars she carried within and on her body? but she was full of spirit, with her hands behind her back and rolling from one foot to the other ( a shy wee Girl).
She greeted me in my own language, then spoke to me in Afrikaans " I am Alta uncle Terry" she looked at me a smiled at me! captivating my very soul, and said " thank you for talking me to hospital.
I thank you and my family thanks you, for saving my life?
She curtsied and put her hands up to reach out to me!
I picked her up and she kissed me on my cheek, I gave her a cuddle and put her down, she scampered off  giggling and came back dragging her Zulu girlfriend with her.
Who also thanked me in the language of her father and they both ran away giggling.
The young Zulu Girl was also  badly marked from the burns on her hands.
(I have no words for what I felt then).

Then another strange incident took place, Alta's Father! asked me "if I would sign his family bible, beside Alta's birth entry, and beside the writing he had entered", which I did?
I tried to read the entry but his writing was crap and in Afrikaans. He laid the bible on the coffee table in the centre of the room.
A few local farmers came into the house shook my hand and went forward and read the passage the farmer had written and then took their leave, it was a bit strange! a bit like a wake?

I couldn't stand the not knowing  any longer? so I went and made an effort to read the piece, I'd signed, Firstly, he thanked God for sending me that day! and for the part I played.

The next Part was a confession for his part in Alta's accident and his failing as her Father to get her the proper help and for the acid being in the shed.
It would seem? he had made a  religious covenant with his God ! and if he would forgive him and help Alta to get better?
My signature was witness to the unforgivable shame he felt. I got the feeling that my being here was part of his covenant.

This is of course my basic interpretation of his writing and at this time? my Afrikaans was poor! so I may have missed some bits.

Later in the day I returned to base, later talking it over with boss Terry, he said for the Father to admit this and show his family Bible to a Soti ( English) was unheard of,  these people had no reason to trust the English! and as for Alta calling me oom (uncle) Terry, now that was a great compliment from the family.


"Ek Alta oom Terry".                  : "I am Alta uncle Terry."

"Baie Dankie for my lewe."        :" Very Thank you for my life".


"Sawbona mngani Soti Terry".    : " I see you friend Soti Terry".

"Ngiyabonga (Kak hulu)".            : " Thank you very much".

"Sala kahie".                                  :  " good bye"

24 months later:

I  was spraying dope in Columbia, when I received word from boss Terry in South Africa, that young Alta had died. 
She just went to her bed and faded away.

On that rare occasion when I get out my flying gear, I sometimes sit holding my helmet and thermos, and listen to my memories that seem to radiate from my kit, this one, is a Memory of Memories!
I wish I had an answer Why! this had to happen.

"Life is so cruel"
We can do no great things? only small things with great love, but its still swimming against the current, Why?



  1. I love your stories. I've got that new question up! Hope you are doing well. Donna

  2. Thank you for your kind words


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