Saturday, June 04, 2005

Info on the abortive take-off (let's not use that word "crash")

Enfin, here is an account of the plane-meets-shrubbery-rather-than-taking-off incident. I lifted it off of an email that my colleague wrote our heads of office after speaking to me. Some terms to be defined: OCHA = Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN), MONUC = UN Mission in the Congo, Tunda = Middle of Friggin Nowhere Congo

Sarah was taking part in a UN/OCHA coordinated inter-agency assesment mission to Tunda, a small town in southwestern Maniema Province. The mission team arrived there on Wednesday morning, May 25 by MONUC helicopter from Kindu. They were staying at the Methodist mission in Tunda town.

The mission team was scheduled to leave Tunda on Saturday May 28 for Kananga, provincial capital of Kasai Occidentale province. The OCHA mission had chartered the Tunda-Kananga flight with Aviation Sans Frontiere (ASF) - an 11 passenger 208 Cesna Caravan. ASF is a reputable French air service NGO similar to Airserv or MAF; we used them extensively in 1998 when we were doing flood assistance in villages along the Congo River near Kisangani. They have a South African crew based in Mbuji Mayi (provincial capital of Kasai Orientale). Sarah was to spend the evening of May 28 in Kananga and to continue to Kinshasa by commercial flight (Hewa Bora) to Kinshasa yesterday (Sunday, 29 May).

Friday night, May 27 it had rained in Tunda and the compacted dirt airstrip was wet. The ASF aircraft did not have any problem landing on May 28. On May 28, however, after taxing to the end of the runway, the plane skidded and got stuck a bit. The crew stopped the aircraft and got out to further inspect the airstrip. They determined that take-off was possible and reboarded the aircraft.

The airplane accelerated down the airstrip, but because of the wetness and softness of the airstrip, they were not able to get up enough speed to take off. The Stall Warning indicated to the pilots that speed was not enough to take off and they put on the brakes. The brakes had some difficulty catching, so the plane was not able to come to a complete stop before the end of the runway. The aircraft skidded into the shrubbery and trees about 60 meters beyond the end of the runway. No one was hurt. All passengers and crew quickly exited the aircraft.

The ASF aircraft will need some reparations and technical verification, so it was no longer an option to leave Tunda with ASF. The team and ASF crew spent Saturday and Sunday night in Tunda at the mission. Today, Monday May 30, MONUC sent a helicopter from Kindu to pick up the mission team and ASF crew and take them back to Kindu.

As is required for all staff in Maniema travelling outside of Kindu, Sarah had with her the Kindu Thuraya satellite phone. She was making at least a daily call to me in Kinshasa to keep me abreast of the situation. I was relaying all information received from Sarah to our upper management.

This is the first time ASF has had a problem like this. Although the runway is short - 780 meters, the Methodist mission aircraft has been landing and taking off there in the past few months. The problem was due to the previous night's rain. The ASF crew and OCHA team determined that with dry conditions, there is no problem for small aircraft to use the Tunda airstrip. Nevertheless, extending the airstrip would be helpful to allow other types of aircraft to use the strip.


Blogger Jared said...

Sounds like an ordeal...

but to be entirely impertinent -

your grandfather stopped me in Starbucks and gave me the address of this blog. I think it's really cool that your family is spreading word about you and your amazing journeys in Africa.

Just so you know :) one random stranger got the message. Thank your grandpa, he seems like a really nice guy.

3:48 AM  

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