'To be' or not 'to be' on TV

FLIGHT risk management often involves eliminating those 'little jackals destroying the vineyard' beforehand. This month's contribution illustrates a case in pointÖ

THE world media was converging onto Durban's International Convention Centre. Charter pilot Jotan (pseudonym) blow-waved his hair five minutes longer than usual that morning. He would be flying high-profile passengers from Pretoria for the final verdict of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, following many months' proceedings.

The former SA Defence Force general and entourage whom Jotan was flying were somewhat delayed. Jotan had no option but to patiently wait at the airport restaurant - despite his apprehensions about the weather and traffic congestion. To make a long story short, shortly after becoming airborne in the six-seat twin engine Piper Seneca II Jotan experienced his first 'misgivings' about having had that second cup of coffee. Just in range of the Vrede NDB his eyes already started watering. Overhead Vrede he began seriously considering a diversion to Harrismith. Inside the Durban FIR literally every shrub and tree under wing seemed ideally suited to respond to the call from Mother Nature. Eventually he had no choice. After explaining his predicament to his passengers everyone was most understanding and
helped to search in every possible crevice inside the plane for something, anything hollow. The general eventually presented the only and best option, a yellow plastic bag. Shortly afterwards a mightily relieved Jotan, with ears tingling after a few contortionist moves, 'secured' the bag with a double knot to be disposed of later. But, in strict adherence to Murphy's Law, just as Jotan was about to zip up, the VHF radio crackled into life. Everyone and his dog seemed to be flying to Durban for the big event. From that very moment Jotan's Seneca II was vectored in all directions all over the sky by ATC, making way for bigger airliners, before finally being cleared to land. This would make them even later, as precious minutes were lost in the process.

After touching down Jotan saw, much to his dismay, that the 'light aircraft area' had already been filled to capacity. Jotan and his entourage had to be marshalled to park next to an SAA Boeing 737 with what seemed to be thousands of disembarking passengers, all looking at them. Jotan had to be swifter than usual to open the rear door for his passengers. Now, as some might know, some older low wing Pipers have this peculiar feature that with one notch flap (forgotten) 'down' a 'NO STEP' warning appears. In a moment of haste, such a warning tag can
'disappear' due to inattention, or 'Troxler Effect', or whatever. Another design peculiarity is that unless one is maybe wearing shorts or stove-pipes, the little nasty step might be very slippery and get a nasty grip sometimes resulting in nasty scrape marks on the lower leg. Understandably, Jotan wanted also to be discreet in discarding his little plastic bag. But, as he stepped onto the wings a few cameras on tripods began to pan in their direction. Realising he's on TV just before stepping down from the wing, he hastily combed his fingers through ruffled hair with one free hand. Well, it would turn out that probably due to ATC interference at the most critical time back in the air, both his belt and zipper had been left undone. Oblivious of such trivial details he almost 'regally' took another step, onto the flap; which promptly gave way. The little foothold somehow ended up inside one of the trouser legs. In the process of flipping onto his face, trying to hold onto navy blue Woollies trousers and his yellow bag, the contents were splashed before the world's media.

* * *

Hiding in his hotel room that evening Jotan continuously scanned all news channels, till late. To his utter relief his VIP passenger's most opportune and timely disembarkation from the left rear airplane door at the very moment Jotan flipped out of sight, was the only scene repeatedly shown on TV.

Johan Lottering - Focused Flying

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