The Cat O’Nine Tales (or My Nine Lives)

Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12

I pulled back hard on the control column, the two trees in front parted to show me the way, the scream of tortured aluminium, a solid thump as the propeller hit the ground and stopped the roaring engine, the scene ahead became a close-up of the ground I had left a few short seconds before.  As I braced myself against the instrument panel, my left hand found and cut the master switch. The world turned upside down, and I hung from my seat belt. Now deadly silence, broken only by the clicking of the cooling engine, and a voice behind me muttering “What the bloody hell?”   For the first time I had a bent airplane!


This accident in 1971 which so brutally raped my Icarian virginity, like all my other crashes, will be analysed in depth over the coming months in ‘The Lowdown’. This crash, though, appears that I was a victim of a microburst/wind shear. There were some distant thunderstorms in the air, as it was November in East Africa, though it is also possible I ‘got behind the power curve’ which can be done by letting the nose get too high so that it is difficult to regain normal flying speed.


I was flying Professor J B Bronowski on a BBC documentary ‘The Ascent of Man’ and we were working out of my Omo River camp in Southern Ethiopia and were filming from the air the vast dry plains and dry lakebeds that surround the Omo River camp. This crash proved expensive for me, as not only did I lose a valuable (if slightly underpowered) aircraft but I had to hire a replacement ‘plane and pilot to complete the filming.


I do not think I was really responsible for this particular ‘prang’ though in spite of the tricky weather, I could of course have gone into weight and balance a little more carefully. The BBC camera equipment was obviously far more heavy then my usual tourist load. That’s the trouble with over-confidence and of course inAfricayou can’t get easy access to sophisticated weighing equipment, and my clients offered me no weight  schedules. It had ‘felt alright’ on loading and departingAddis Ababa.


However, I ‘kept my head’, did not panic and brought her in with no damage to myself and passengers, this was to be the ‘norm’ for the remaining years of my flying.


This series is dedicated to my many pilot friends who have flown with me in Africa and elsewhere:    Clyde Adams; Johnny Adamson; ‘Dicky’ Bird; Gerardus Van Boxtel*; Allan Coulson; Jim ‘Aussie’ Conway*; Capt. Dave Dedman; John Eaton; Bobby Eudey (my American instrument instructor) Capt. John Fughle; David Lloyd*; Bill McKay*; Sebag Montefiore; Don Nash; Andrew Spence; Jim Stewart; Tony Stocken*; Tagd Wixted; Sir Henry Dalrymple-White.

*now Deceased


by Roger McKay

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