By Salome Maree


"Do you see that rock under the tree over there?

I nodded…." yeas"

My passenger shoved his finger under my nose. "That is where you will stay today. You are not allowed into the lodge at all. We will bring you out some water later." I looked dumbfounded at the high-flying political passenger, which I flew to a private lodge for some meeting, blinked and nodded.

So, there I stayed, perched on the rock like one of the local wildlife until he eventually decided that he would like to go home. All of a sudden, I was good enough again to fly him and his small entourage, safely to where he came from. Ai tog.

Funny how often pilots are treated like the lowest of life forms by certain passengers/ lodge owners You learn quickly to carry a sleeping back tucked into the corner of the belly pod of the aircraft, as well as a stash of Provitas, biltong and a bottle of water.

Then there are passengers and lodge owners who treat you with respect and kindness.

One day I had to pick up a lady from the Limpopo Valley airport, just over the border of Botswana. When she arrived at the airfield, it turns out that she is an elephant scientist. I invited her to sit in front with me. She had the most incredible stories to tell of all her adventures. One of the interesting things she has mentioned, was that our elephants are now often born without tusks because the big tuskers are being shot out unfortunately.

Another was a lady who traveled the world alone. I made her comfortable in the back seat, with the cooler- bags filled with treats and drinks, at hand. Then she looked at me a little bit forlornly I invited her to sit in front with me which she gladly accepted. On our way back to Lanseria she told me all about her travel adventures she's been on the last while. The flight back to Lanseria was even shorter than normal.

I always made sure that there was an abundance of airsick bags in the aircraft - every seat pocket had a handful, in the pocket at my knee, in the cubbyhole, in the side pockets of the cooler-boxes, everywhere. One day that was almost almost not enough. I picked up a Chinese family from Grand Central to fly them to Madikwe. I distributed the family throughout the aircraft and squeezed their luggage in. The two kids were already fidgety before take-off. So, with aircon on full blast, off we went. We have not even reached Hartbeespoort Dam yet when the fun started. You develop eyes at the back of your head when you fly charters, and a superhuman sixth sense really. Just crossing the N14 highway I had that feeling. THAT feeling you are about to do clean up duty again. I saw the mother franticly grab an airsick bag and lunge at the youngest. Arriving just in time to catch the stream spilling out the mouth of the child. Then the eldest started. By the time we landed at Madikwe just under an hour later there were 15 used airsick bags standing on the floor of the aircraft. To this day I do not know how on earth 2 little kids could contain so much fluid. On landing she wanted to leave me with all 15 little parcels. I deftly handed them over to the poor ranger to dutifully pack them with their luggage in the safari vehicle.

Then you get the passengers who blatantly ignore instructions. I had to drop three passengers off at a tiny little lodge with an almost unpronounceable name. As always, they received a strict safety briefing beforehand on all the does and don'ts. The flight itself was uneventful, that is, until just after landing. I was still taxiing to where the vehicles were waiting for us at the flattened area serving as a ramp, when the clever passenger, seated at the back door decided he could not wait one second longer. He opened the door and darted out. Luckily for him, I was taxiing slowly over the rather uneven ground. As he exited the aircraft, I yanked the mixture shut in case he took short cut across the nose, which luckily, he did not. Talk about heart stopping moments. Phew.

I always made double sure that I arrived early for a flight. At Maratiba I would be treated to the call of the local fish eagles while awaiting my passengers.

At one of the Botswana airfields, I was standing in the shade of the wing, trying to catch what little breeze there was. Then I noticed a distance away, under one of the trees, a pride of lions was having an afternoon Siesta. I know I've never scrambled back into the aircraft so quickly. I sat there in the relative safety of the aircraft, steaming in the African sun, willing the pride to move. Luckily the passengers and accompanying ranger did not take too long to arrive. Phew!

At Madikwe, quite often the elephants would take a stroll along the runway or rest in the clump of trees, opposite to the parking area. Big ones and little ones, all shapes and sized, being led by the quite wisdom of the matriarch. It was amazing to watch the interactions of the herd.

And so, we have the spectacular moments and the lows of charter flying.

Our next adventure will produce a bit a headache…...

Five Days in Kruger Day Five

Aviation Personalities
Female Aviators

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