The weather was building on the highveld and the clients were late. The destination aerodrome was to be a privately owned dirt strip somewhere in the Waterberg. So far, so "double k, middle a" as my Afrikaans colleagues love to say.

As the client's luggage finally arrived, I started getting worried. This was a two-crew charter for self-proclaimed VRPs. VIPs and Very Rich People have a lot in common. Three things top the list: Severe undiagnosed allergy to punctuality balanced by moderate to toxic positivity, because "everything can/must fit into the plane." Plus, a two-crew requirement for "added safety", but also adding unnecessary weight.

The "I pay, therefore I call the shots" mentality is a given, so in this case the baas van die plaas and his female companion sat with their huge blue and white cooler box balanced on their feet. The other two seats were already occupied by all the luggage that wouldn't fit into the nose compartment, whilst the floor loading limits of the aircraft were tested by dozens of neatly tied shopping bags strewn all over the trusted Seneca.

On the upside, I was flying with one of my favourite colleagues and was looking forward to the scenery and the chats...

We were number six for take-off that morning, this was still in the busy days at Lanseria. Waiting on taxiway Alpha behind the other traffic, I started noticing an utterly peculiar smell.

"Smell that?"

"Ja! My vet!"

A typical Christiaan expression, because he would never say the ruder figure of speech that is more common among pilots.

"Well, it's not me. I am as fresh as a daisy!" I smelled my armpit inconspicuously to confirm just how good I smelled.

"Well, it's not me either. I showered now now and, in any case, the smell is coming from everywhere, not us."

He was right. Odorous air was surrounding us, creeping into our nostrils, infiltrating every nose hair, reaching into our sinuses so that the smell would linger for days.

"Do you see any smoke? Maybe it's a burning cable." I taxied forward one aircraft length; we were now number five. Smoldering cables can produce a fishy smell.

Turning around he gave the pax his trademark toothy smile and thumbs upped the clients, so as not to worry them, scanning the inside of the aircraft quickly for wisps of smoke, while I felt the cables under the panels for heat. Shaking his head and shrugging, he then ducked under the instrument panels with the little torch, as much as the space allowed his tall frame, but still we had not found the offending culprit. While he was busy, I taxied forward, we were now number four for take-off.

"No circuit breakers have popped." We were still busy trouble shooting and now number three for take-off.

"Goodness me, I have never smelled something so disgusting in my life. It is like dead rat combined with off fish and mixed abattoir. You have control. This morning when we ferried the aircraft here, the scent was the usual avgas, hangar and leather. This is so gross; we might have to cancel the take-off due to the tears that will surely collect in our eyes."

After hearing the almost automatic response: "I have control.", it was my turn to turn around in the seat and look backwards along the inside fuselage all the way to the back.

As I looked back, the clients did not return my smile, nor the thumbs up. Rude. Eyes darting everywhere possible, I did see, however, that their cooler box was ajar. After scanning the entire back of the plane over all the plastic bags, I turned around again, while Christiaan taxied forward. We were now number two and time for a decision to return to the apron was running out.

"I think the stink is emanating from their blerrie cooler bag." I opened the storm window on my side. Sure, enough the outside air reeked beautifully of burning JetA1, tar and dew. We were now ordered to line up and wait, scanning the approach path as well figuring out this very puzzling scenario. "It's not from the outside, it is their disgusting food supplies, for sure."

"You have control." My collegue handed over the aircraft while casually switching off the loudspeaker on the panel in the middle of the radio stack. My hands went cold and my stomach flip-flopped.

"Was the speaker on the whole time?"


"The whole time? They heard everything?"

"Damnitall! Sherbet!"


Followed by a weak: "I have control."

No wonder they didn't return my thumbs up and smile. They were cross after listening to what we, or rather I, had said about their choice of food on board for their trip. At least we knew where the smell came from, as we got ready on threshold 06 Left, now happy to be able to go. Weather radar on standby, but not expecting too much trouble on the way to the destination, we took off trying not to look into the sun too much and turned towards the North, taking in the stunning scenery of the Hartebeespoort Dam. The bile inducing aromas got less as we opened our air vents and the fans blew fresh air into the cockpit at speed from the outside. All the time I was wondering how to fix this. There would surely be complaints by these pax. By the time we reached the rich foliage of the Waterberg area, trees crowding the valleys, sparkling waterways competing with stark cliff faces, I had almost forgotten the problems of earlier, if it weren't for the lingering smell returning to our nostrils as we slowed down after the landing roll on the gritty dirt strip. Small stones pinged off the propellers, but we had to wait for the turbos to cool down before shutting down the engines.

As the farm staff arrived to unload the plane, the passengers greeted them warmly from their seats. They had to wait their turn to exit, what with all the bags. Finally, we were all standing next to the plane and I had to listen to the clients berating me about my manners and my ignorance regarding an oily Dutch pickled fish delicacy that they had brought all the way from Europe.

They were so upset, they refused to shake my hand before we left again, making it clear that they had never been treated so poorly. Oh well, there was nothing I could say. At that moment, I felt quite bad about all of this.

Flying back, we had tears in our eyes again, this time from laughter. We couldn't stop grinning and giggling. It didn't help that the lady had a nasal voice and heavy accent while complaining, and the guy had very big ears on his stooping frame.

Fishy enough, we never ended up pickling them up five days later...

Four hours in Kruger

Aviation Personalities
Female Aviators

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