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206 to Thiangrial

March 29, 2011

If pilots pray before they take off with passengers then I guess they usually keep it to themselves. Not this guy. He gives a safety briefing which is thorough and practical and before he climbs in prays. What does that mean about the prospects of the flight? Well, given it is AIMAIR it means we are doubly in very good hands. He climbs into the tiny cockpit of the Cessna 206, calls “clear”, fires the engine and off we roll.  We launch south into a stiff breeze, but quickly turn north as we climb out over UN camps and Food Relief facilities.  I am travelling with Sandy, a nurse from Canada who has been working across this part of Africa for the last twenty or so years. She runs a clinic up here at Doro. I am impressed at her commitment to the people and work and enjoy a long chat with her through to Loki. But in this small craft we are forced to sit in line and the noise prevents any conversation anyway.

We climb steadily at 80 knots to 5, then 6 then 7,000 feet. We seem to be leveling out at 8,500’. Indeed we have, speed now up to 100 knots. We bump and crash around a bit so we push up to 9,000. The straight strip cut through the bush below us tells us we have crossed into Sudan. It’s an interesting panorama. Not unlike the Australian outback, but with a major difference.  The countryside is patterned with hedges, marking out corrals and villages. Otherwise it’s as vast and flat and dun as Australia. So far at least.  The pilot is forced to haul us higher, trying to get us over some nasty fluffy stuff in front. 10,500’ and we skid over the top of it . Five minutes we are wheeling around  more lumpy stuff. But it seems we have been given a clear path through it all and don’t have to climb any further. We would have some oxygen challenges if we did! It is remarkable to peer to down through the cloud and see how populated this desert is. There seems to be rings of bush everywhere I look.

We have beaten our way up here for a couple of hours now. The navigation systems says we are 53 miles away from our destination. The landscape has changed markedly. We have crossed sweeping rivers and estuaries with flocks of a gazillion white birds visible from even up here. We are now crossing a vast flat expanse, almost featureless and with no hint of water whatsoever.  The clouds are long behind us but the heat from the desert below is bouncing us around. There is no horizon, the heat and dust haze wipes the floor below into the blue brown sky and we are lost in a vast canopy of space. Without all those instrument humming away we would have a real navigation and orientation problem on our hands. Now the ground seems to have been rubbed out altogether. How much is dust? 40 miles out and the nose is pointed down, the speed picks up to 120 knots and we drop to 9,500, then 9,000’. Aha, the there’s the ground again. 

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