MAF SA’s missionary pilot, Mark Liprini, shares a day from his logbook.

A MAF Cessna C208 Caravan in Tanzania

It was the usual quiet morning in the office. I was in the process of demolishing a delightful hot chapati, to accompany the fresh coffee.

My logbooks had just been written up from the flying earlier in the week, and I was busy working through emails while planning the next few days.

Across the way from me, I heard our Ops Manager Emanual (Emma) taking a call. He takes lots of them each day, but something in his tone of voice alerted me. Slowly he pushed back his chair. “This was a call for a medevac from Haydom Hospital. Two mothers with new-born babies with severe birth defects need to get to the paediatric surgeon in Moshi as soon as possible.”

“How new-born are they, and what sort of  defects?” I asked, mentally calculating flight times, distances, refuelling, and drop-off times, thinking about the weather and the payloads, and glancing at the office clock to see if we could still pull it off that day.

“Both were born yesterday, and they have part of their intestines protruding through their stomach wall; well, that is how the nurse has just described it to me,” Emma replied. “I’m busy gathering more information on their weights, who needs to accompany them, and how we get them to Moshi from Kilimanjaro airport,” he continued.

“Wait, is Moshi still closed? The Notams say that the repair work has been completed.”

“No, I have just called them, and they are still definitely closed to flights until next month.”

“Ok Emma, you continue running those numbers, and I will work out a last take off time; confirm our routing is Arusha-Haydom-Kili and back home to Arusha?

“Sawa sawa”.

He grinned and grabbed the phone, while I clicked open our flight planner on my laptop and furiously started crunching numbers.

I looked up. “Hey Emma, we have to do Peter’s route check this week; see if you can get enough available payload so he can join this flight as his route check, please?”

Peter Griffin had heard the conversation from the adjoining office and stuck his head around the door. “Are we going flying, boss?”

“Affirmative. Are you ready for your route check, buddy?”

“Emma, our last take off time is 13:50 local time, which means Peter and I need to be at the airport by 12:50 latest, leaving the office by 12:00 latest so we can swing by our homes to get changed, and down to the airfield in time. On a scale of one to ten, how certain is this medevac?”

He glanced up from his screen, “It’s a definite nine. All they are worried about is how to get the babies from Kili to Moshi.”

“Ok, I will print the paperwork and Peter and I will leave right away. Rather, we get to the aircraft, and it’s called off, than we run late. We have to have the aircraft back in Arusha by tonight for tomorrow’s early flight.”

By 13:50, we were in Cessna 206, 5H-PTL, heading for Haydom Hospital. We sent Emmanual our ETAs and asked that the patients be ready at the airstrip when we landed, and that they ensured that the airstrip was clear of livestock and people when we arrived. He confirmed that all the above had been done and had already been confirmed by the hospital authorities.

In MAF parlance, a route check is an annual flight test where the pilot being checked has to demonstrate their ability to conduct a normal operational flight to a MAF check pilot. Their entire performance is observed, from gathering information before the flight, to putting the aircraft to bed at the end of the day.

During the flight they would also be presented with various hypothetical emergency scenarios to discuss as they are flying. Today’s emergency scenarios were going to be for real. Peter had to consider how he would handle the nature of the medical emergency – fly high or low?

We were going to be potentially over our landing weight at Kilimanjaro; how would he deal with that? How was he going to strap in the moms with their delicate newborn babies? How was he going to deal with the forecast low clouds and potential afternoon rain? Timewise, how was he going to make our last landing time at Arusha?

We landed at Haydom, but had to wait on the runway while an errant flock of goats and sheep were chased off the runway so we could taxi in and shut down.

The ambulance driver was there in his shiny new ambulance. “Where are the patients?” asked the two pilots, trying hard to keep their smiles.

“Oh, do you want me to fetch them now?” he asked, with a cheerful grin on his face.

While we waited, two young doctor interns arrived at the airfield, so Peter grabbed the opportunity to ask their advice about flying the babies. High and smooth, or low and bumpy?

Ten minutes later, the ambulance came careering back along the rough dirt roads with four adults. Three mothers with babies and an accompanying nurse. It turned out that another baby with similar birth defects had just been born while we were en-route, so they elected to put her on the flight as well.

We looked at each other. “You know I am going to be about 20 kg over landing weight at Kilimanjaro, right?” Peter said.

“Yep. So what are you going to do to manage that?” We briefly discussed some options, then carefully strapped the moms and babies in and got airborne for Kilimanjaro airport.

The C206 that we fly has only six seats, but air law allows for newborn infants to be carried on laps. Today, we made a memorable call to base: “Fox Fox, PTL airborne Haydom with nine persons on board”.

As we flew to Kili, navigating the terrain, dodging some mild weather and easing through some turbulence, Peter was hard at work managing the fuel consumption and using other tricks up his sleeve to get ourselves down to landing weight by our ETA at Kilimanjaro Airport. The anticipated strong headwind had died away, so he had to get creative.

Looking back, we could see that the moms seemed to be okay, with the nurse in the back seat giving us a huge smile and a thumbs up. As we got close to Kili, still a few kilograms above landing weight, with Peter working hard to reduce the fuel load, we heard from the tower.

“Kili tower to PTL.”

“Go ahead, Kili.”

“Can you expedite your approach, or will you take #2 position to faster traffic?”

“We will take #2, thank you.”

“Copied that; plan to do two orbits on the downwind of runway 09.”

As Peter expertly eased the aircraft onto the runway, conscious of the fragile babies and moms in the back and the fact that we were at or very close to the max landing weight, we realised that we had landed exactly at our maximum landing weight, or maybe one kilogram under.

The marshaller understood our need to get back in the air ASAP, and he personally escorted the moms, babies and nurse through the terminal buildings to the waiting transport outside, while we scrambled to get ourselves back in the air to avoid spending the night in Kilimanjaro.

We squeaked into Arusha about 15 minutes before our last landing time!

An amazing day, being able to save those moms and babies a horrid seven or eight-hour journey in a Landcruiser over really bumpy roads. The doctors were pretty certain that at least one of those babies might not have survived the journey. Instead, they had a 1.3-hour flight, mostly smooth, followed by a one-hour drive over fairly good roads to get to Moshi.

It’s these things that we really enjoy — playing a small part in saving lives and just being part of the Kingdom for these moms, the babies – and the nurse.


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