By Salome Maree


My next contract was to fly the Embraer 120 in the Comoros Island, just off the coast of Mozambique. We were based in Maroni, on the main island and had to fly a schedule to Mayotte (French island), Anjuan, Moheli and on the odd occasion, to Madagascar.

Mayotte looks like one of those island runways that you see on postcards. Moheli was parallel to the ocean, against the side of the island and created some rather tricky take-offs.

Fish, paw-paws, tomatoes, week old South African bread (available from the South African shop on the island), crayfish with vanilla sauce and long French baguettes with a sprinkling of volcanic dust, if you were to late to buy them at the bakery, was the fair for most days.

One of our routings was from Maroni to the island of Anjuan. The side of the island where the runway is located, is shaped like a C or a sickle. You had to decide 5 miles out form the runway if you would be able to land or not. This rather short little runway had huge mountains on the other side of the runway and the outstretched arms of the island on either side so there was no chance of a missed approach.

As a very green, GUFUSU (Gear Up, Flap Up, Shut Up), or otherwise known as the First Officer on the E120, I let the more experienced captains do the landings.

We would skim over the azure blue water of the sea and the beach, scrape across the airport fence and then did a very quick, short field landing, with full flaps, full reverse thrust and braking to stop the aircraft before the end of the runway. The runway itself was very rough and shook loose which was not and off which was.

After landing the captain and I stayed in the cockpit and completed the documentation for the next flight while the flight engineer supervised the off loading and loading of the luggage.

While in the cockpit, I looked at the captain and said to him: "Hey! How come we are sitting so high suddenly?" For a moment he looked at me, I looked at him. He gingerly got out of his seat and out of the door. I contemplated if I should stay put or not but figured that my weight would not make such a big difference in the nose, so I inched towards the door as well. With me being short, normally the step down to the ground would be a bit of a step down, but this time around I had to jump to get to the ground. I turned around and had a look at the nose wheel. That was actually a couple of inched off the groundÖ..

I walked around the wing and saw the engineer standing in the cargo bay, red in the face, yelling and screaming at the local baggage handlers. They figured they could load all the baggage on the trolly. The aircraft had the space, but with the baggage and the pax, we would have been severely overweight.

While all this was going on, the familiar sound of four roaring Allison engines caught my attention.

Over the mountain, from the INLAND side of the runway, the C130 of the South African Airforce appeared. Under the guidance of their skilled hands, the C130 flew down the steep mountain slopes and did a perfect short field landing. Trust the SAAF to do what seems impossible.

By then our aircraft was back within safe flying limits and we departed with our passengers and about half the baggage to Maroni .

Our next adventure will be taking us back into the South African bushveld and introduce some of the interesting characters what charter brings.

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