31 December 2008

Merry Christmas and a Busy New Year

We got a call between Christmas and New Year to do a medical evacuation off an island in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Mozambique. We couldn't go straight away because of the weather but went at first light the next day.

The cloud that lifted just enough for us to get the plane to the local international airport on the Monday afternoon, enveloped it on Tuesday morning and we took off with minimum visibility. First stop was Maputo where the cloud was at a 1000 ft but adequate for an instrument approach. We did customs and immigration and were soon on our way back up through the cloud for the island of Bazaruto two hours north.

After landing there, an old door less Land Rover doubled as an ambulance labouring along a heavily sandy track to where the patient was and where we spent an hour with her before she was ready to make the return trip to the plane. It was then only a 20 min hop to Vilanculos, the small international airport on the mainland. A satellite phone call here revealed that the weather back in South Africa was still grim and that the airport was closed. Our only feasible option was to divert back to Maputo where there was medical help. Our flight was relatively straight forward although we did have to alter course slightly to the west for an hour to avoid a shed load of thunderstorms that had ganged up to form a system about 100 miles long. In Maputo the patient was taken to the local hospital for further checks and we had to find alternative accommodation for the night. The next day dawned slowly through the overcast and it wasn't until mid morning that we received word that the cloud had lifted enough in Nelspruit for us to attempt an approach. The patient joined us again and we flew right down to minimums before landing back home just after midday on New Years Eve.
The ambulance and plane after landing back in Nelspruit.

Thank you to those of you who pray about these things for us. In the conditions we had the last few days, we certainly notice the difference.

Mercy Air team

20 December 2008

Hope for Zimbabwe

Just before Christmas we were contacted by a couple of mission organisations to fly some water purification chemicals into Zimbabwe.

Thing is, the chemicals were in Blantyre, Malawi and they need to get to Bulawayo in Zim.
Driving them in was impractical and in any case the need was immediate but we planned to do the flight as soon as we could get the flight permits and other paperwork sorted.

We managed to get the flight permits for entry into Malawi and Zimbabwe fairly quickly and verified that that the airports we need to visit in Malawi and Botswana had fuel. The customs import/export paperwork was a little more awkward to arrange so we delayed the trip by a few days as the last thing we wanted was to have the aircraft (and ourselves) impounded in Zim.

We planned fly up to Blantyre where we would load the chemicals. The next day we would fly to Bulawayo and deliver them to churches who would arrange for transportation to those in need. We thought we might spend one night in Bulawayo and then return to SA the next day. The whole trip would be about 1700 miles and involve five different countries.

We wrote many letters to customs officials in Malawi and Zimbabwe stating that the cargo was a gift and will not be sold and we arranged for clearing, and access for a vehicle to the plane for loading and unloading at the respective airports. There wasn’t much more to do except get in the plane and go. The weather has even cleared up in Nelspruit where we live although we were expecting to have to deal with a bit of weather on the way up to Malawi.

All that was required was two sets of funds. One for us for the cost of the fuel for the plane and one to cover the export and import duties of the supplies. These had been raised in Canada and wired to South Africa at the beginning of the week but didn't arrive. We delayed the flight a day and then another day waiting for the money to come, but it didn't. The warehouse in Blantyre closed today and wouldn’t open again till after New Year, so we ran out of time.

This time Africa wasn't to blame. Basically the funds had been sent from Canada with a note for the bank to check back with the donor before being transferred. That had been done but when it got routed through New York the note popped up on someone's computer again and the transaction was delayed and unfortunately no one realised until it was too late.

So, there we sat at home with a lot of unspent energy after a week of almost constant planning and anticipation

We are terribly disappointed for the people of Zimbabwe that we could not bring this life-saving Christmas present to them. We did however resolve to go in the New Year. It will mean a lot of phoning, faxing, emailing and re-applying but if it helps a whole bunch of people it will be well worth it.

Mercy Air team