Silencing The Lambs

THIS true story illustrates how pressures 'external to the cockpit' can make us do strange things in the air…

THE dust plume around the drilling contraption in the veldt could be seen and heard miles away. Crushed geological samples' moisture content indicated water mere meters away. Then, without warning, the diamond tipped drill bit got stuck in the borehole. Raisin faced Namaqualand sheep farmer Frikkie, or 'Fgikkie' in Afrikaans, was close to tears. He had BIG trouble. He used the local Bushman dialect 'hee-quo ghooth xhaq!' to voice his dismay. His thirsting Dorper ewes were so ready to deliver their unborn lambs seemed lying sideways. Some bleated out a lament as the diesel powered compressor went silent. A mere trickle of water was left after a prolonged drought. A soon to be ruined Frikkie could never again face a chop on his plate - unless he'd made a plan. A replacement part for the drill could only be found in Cape Town nearly a thousand miles away. Frikkie's single engine 1964 Cessna 172 H had to be stripped of three redundant seats to compensate for the weight, before he took off for the Mother City.

The first leg till refuelling at Vredendal went relatively uneventful. Thereafter, encroached by clouds and without an instrument rating, he was thankful to be wearing the flying jacket he'd bought at Oshkosh years ago, before the drought, over his old 'Parabat' T-shirt and PT shorts. Nearing 'D.F. Malan' Airport in those days, he was advised by ATC to divert due to incoming weather. 'Ducking and diving' some low clouds en-route, Frikkie in turn advised ATC that he could not comply. Asked '…if that might imply he had an emergency situation on his hands?' Frikkie replied in the affirmative. 'Well, sort off...' When the ATC made it clear an emergency was a matter of life and death, Frikkie explained that's exactly what it was. Asked if he needed assistance, Frikkie declined, assuring everyone he'd be alright on his own, pretending shortly afterwards to not grasp the terms 'IMC' or 'QBI'. The ATC seemed to be loosing his cool by then. Frikkie tried to make it a language issue, but the guy retaliated in perfect Afrikaans.

Playing for time Frikkie then clicked the microphone a few times to simulate a bad spot of reception. But, the ATC knew full well there were no bad spots in his area. Frikkie eventually landed with half of the runway glimmering in more rain he and everyone back home had seen in years. After landing Frikkie was summoned to the Tower. Two chaps had to hold the Cessna so he could tie her down in the pelting rain. The ATC soon figured he had little option, but to have to drenched farmer's licence pulled by the then 'DCA'.

Back home, about two weeks later, Frikkie was standing among the Dorper ewes with their newly arrived lambs sucking contentedly when the telegram arrived from the DCA. Thereafter, it was only a matter of days before Frikkie's clipped wings made him 'impossible' to live with. Actually, 'the missus' was in the Upington airport departure lounge to visit her daughter in Cape Town when the DCA inspector from the same plane coming to check Frikkie checked in through Arrivals.

The retest, costing Frikkie a few of his beloved Dorpers in travel expenses and fees, went remarkably well. His only obligation to the missus was looking after her darling Skipper. Frikkie and the inspector fed her some 'sheep strings' a taboo for dogs delicacy of the juicy chest meat they were roasting over the coals. They had so much to talk about a captivated Frikkie would not dare interrupt. He just poured and poured the Skipper some sweet wine from Orange River Cellars. Late that night and quite a few saucers later she tried to sit upright, with her tail in the fire's last embers. Upon the missus' return the Skipper ran up to meet her, wagging her bandaged bottom. Frikkie could instantly see 'hee-quo ghooth xhaq!' again. [Think before you drink… or fly].

Johan Lottering - Focused Flying
Aviation Safety

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