From Kupang to the nearest point in Australia, Troughton Island, is about 300 miles, and this morning there was a 20 knot headwind. So our air distance over the sea was going to be around 370 miles if the wind did not drop.
At that time, Kupang airport had a busy life acting as the supply centre for the Non Governmental Organisations dealing with the East Timor refugee problem, and the place was littered with clapped out buses and trucks to prove it. Even so, the airport management had dealt fairly and efficiently with us, and we thanked them for having put the airport lights on for us.
“Your English very hard to understand on radio” the controller had explained gravely, as if suggesting that I take some further training. “My English I use a lot for UN planes arrival”.
“Your English very good” I assured him “and you save our lives last night”.
He smiled in gratitude, and shook my hand in farewell.
We got away quickly, climbed over a small hill at the edge of the airport, and headed south-south-east over the sea. The drone of the engine was even and familiar to us, and we settled down for the hours ahead of us. We spent ten minutes chasing a group of sharks to get photographs, only to conclude that they were in fact dolphins.
We rehearsed slowly and carefully the procedures to adopt if we had engine failure; who was to get out first, what forward and vertical speeds we should try and touch the water at, should we open the passenger door on the way down or later, should we launch one liferaft or two, how could we remember to take our radio beacon and some water with us.
For more information on learning to fly a helicopter with me, please visit TimGilbert.com
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