Even after thousands of hours of flying we never really allowed ourselves to contemplate crashing….let alone ponder what would happen afterwards. We have had a plethora of unusual experiences and surprises on our flying expeditions but none of these were as spectacular as our moment on Matemo, a small island in the Quirimbas Archipelago, off the coast of northern Mozambique. Leaving behind the palm fringes and alabaster shores of Ibo Island, we headed out over the shimmering seas on a photographic flight, which ended in a sequence of events we will never forget.
A fuel leak forced us to land on Matemo – a miniscule island inhabited only by small fishing communities – with an old abandoned airfield stretching parallel to the beach. A standard landing quickly devolved into a spectacular collision thanks to a gust of wind and deceptively harmless-looking low bush. Our wing tipped the bush, and we were flung off the airfield into the only other nearby tree. The propeller, doors and undercarriage were badly damaged. The right wing broke as the airplane almost overturned and aviation fuel poured into the cockpit, drenching us.
As I stood on the airfield in a bikini and sarong covered in aviation fuel, reality started to penetrate and I realised the gravity of the situation. Our aircraft was unflyable and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Friend and fellow aviator, Mike Blythe came to our rescue and after making sure we were ok, slapped Jan on the back and congratulated him on a good crash. “You are only 13 behind me” he said cheerfully as he immediately put Jan in the pilot’s seat of his Sling and flew us back to Ibo Island. Getting the aircraft off the island was a herculean effort; with no salvage companies available we resorted to local manpower. We persuaded resident fisherfolk to assist us in cutting off the wings and carrying the aircraft down to the beach. From there we loaded her on a wooden dhow and sailed her 60 nautical miles back to Pemba on the Mozambique mainland.
In Pemba she was loaded on a truck and driven 4000km south to the factory in the sleepy little town of George, in South Africa, to be resuscitated. Almost 12 months later we got her back; all slick and shining. We gave her a pat, climbed in and headed north to Botswana with the bikini safely packed in my luggage.
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Blog originally published on www.aerial-africa.com.
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