Once Was Enough:
A Canadian Bush Pilot's
All the dogs were beauties and a
couple of the Great Pyrenees we had raised were already champions. So my
wife, Gloria and I decided to take them to a dog show in Toronto. We used
our half-ton truck with the back rigged up to accommodate the two dogs and
headed for Toronto. We left Sara, our daughter, with an old friend, who
would look after her while we were gone.
The trip was long and uneventful and
we found a hotel close to the airport and settled in. Shortly after
arriving, we got a phone call from a woman in Kenora. She asked if I was
interested in making a trip to South Africa to do a little flying. I was
currently between jobs and it sounded good. I opted to hear about it and
discussed it with Gloria. We decided she would look after the dogs and I
would proceed, if the job sounded interesting.
A few hours later I got a call asking
me to meet two people in the hotel bar. I went down to meet them and they
outlined what they had in mind. I was to work for Oxfam. I would fly to
Johannesburg, South Africa, via London, with British Airways and check in
to an exclusive hotel at my final destination.
This was in 1977, during the
restrictive apartheid era in South Africa when whites and blacks were
separated by law. Blacks couldn't use the same restaurants or toilets as
whites, and everywhere signs reminded people "whites only" and
"blacks only". During those days whites could be prosecuted for
fraternizing with blacks. The blacks were only allowed in the city to
shine shoes and generally do menial chores to provide whites with a
superior life style.
At this time I really didn't have much
of an idea what South Africa was like so I accepted the $3500.00 cash they
gave me and bought a ticket that would take me to South Africa. Gloria and
the dogs visited with her sister in Ottawa and then flew back home,
leaving the truck for me to drive back to Winnipeg on my return from
I was given instructions to be in the
hotel lounge every morning for 10 days and watch for a blonde woman who
would contact me. I was to wear a yellow sweater that they had given me
and told to carry a copy of the German publication "Der Spiegle"
and be there between 9 and 10 am every day for 10 days after which I was
instructed to go home if no one showed up.
I was told to go to one of the local
airports to get checked out on a light aircraft of my choice and do some
flying so I would qualify when the time came to rent an airplane. Grand
Central airport, between Jo'berg and Pretoria, seemed the logical choice
because it was away from the heavy international traffic and had the right
choice of aircraft for rent at their flying club.
Everything went off without a hitch
but it wasn't until the tenth day before the blonde showed up. Of course I
knew it was her as soon as I saw her coming. She came up to the couch I
was sitting on and said "you dropped something". She bent down,
pretending to pick up something from the floor and handed me a note with a
phone number on it.
I called the number as soon as I got
to my room and was given directions to another hotel where I would meet
Bert Harrison, the man I was to fly out of the country.
During the ten days I spent waiting to
be contacted I went to the Grand Central airport and rented a Piper Arrow,
which is a single-engine aircraft with retractable undercarriage. It was a
fairly fast plane, about 200 miles an hour and adequate for the job I
would be doing.
I flew every day for ten days and
became familiar with the procedures and the area and the flying club
personnel, instructors, etc. I wrote some tests and completed the South
African endorsement on my pilot license. I had been into many different
airports in Canada and North America so it wasn't a difficult transition.
In fact, the chief pilot for the flying school took one look at my
license, which included Boeing 737, Hawker Sidley 746, Nisson YS11, DC-3,
DC-4, float and ski endorsements and instrument ratings, accompanied me
for one circuit in the Piper Arrow, and then said "you're on your
own", which suited me just fine.
I met some local pilots in the flying
club bar and was invited to ride in a hot-air balloon owned by one of the
patrons. I kept myself busy flying around the country and visiting local
sights, when I finally got a message one afternoon to contact the man who
wanted to leave the country. He was an anti-apartheid newspaper editor who
had been living outside of South Africa since running afoul of those in
power. He had slipped back into the country to get some money since the
government did not allow money to be transferred out of South Africa. He
would be put in jail if he was caught. My job was to fly him out of the
country. He was staying on the 6th floor in one of the sleaziest hotels in
Jo'berg. The hotel's very old elevator had a maximum capacity of 3 people
and traveled about 2 miles an hour. The man I met was short and stocky
with blue eyes and curly, reddish blond hair. He called to say we would be
leaving for Mozambique the following day.
In order to ally suspicions, I made
out a flight plan to Kruger Park, a game park in the northern part of
South Africa, instead of Lorenzo Marquee Airport in Mozambique where I
planned to drop him off. Actually I had to fly directly east to drop him
off and then head north to Kruger Park. After some discussion, we agreed
that he should be dropped off on the old road between Mozambique and
Jo'berg that was no longer in use, just outside the South Africa border.
He had wanted to go to Maputo, as it is now known, but I was concerned
about suspicions that could raise on my activities if it was discovered
that I had landed in communist Mozambique. He was feeling insecure about
the arrangements and suggested we rent a plane from another airport, east
of Jo'berg, but I assured him that I was familiar enough with Central
airport to feel perfectly safe there.
The next morning I rented a car and
picked him up at his hotel. When we got to the airport I parked in the
parking lot not far from the gas pumps and went in only to find that the
aircraft I had been using had been out overnight and had not yet returned.
I had no choice but to ask to rent another type airplane. It was a Piper
Musketeer, a shorter range aircraft that only went about 100 mph. I made
some quick calculations after checking the weather and finding that I
would have tail winds and concluded that I would have enough fuel to do
the trip. I fueled the aircraft and went to let the man know we were ready
to go. He was sitting with a newspaper hiding his face. We boarded the
aircraft and started to taxi, only to discover that the mike did not work.
I had to return to pick up another mike. Obviously no one was paying any
attention to us and within a short time we were on our way.
The trip was uneventful and we landed
on a dirt road outside of a little village in Mozambique. The man got out
of the plane with his suitcase, full of money or securities or whatever. A
cow had been crossing the road as we approached, but was out of the way by
the time I touched down. A very tall black tribesman walking along the
road headed for the ditch as he saw us coming down to land. I didn't waste
any time on the ground. Harrison explained to me that the jeeps coming
from the nearby little town would be carrying armed men "who use live
ammunition". He felt that he would be safe if he was walking, but
wasn't sure about me and airplane.
I got airborne as quickly as possible
and headed for Kruger Park where I parked the airplane and went into the
game park for a couple of days after renting a Mercedes Benz. I saw herds
of wildebeest, giraffes, impala, zebra, lions, elephants, springbok and a
variety of birds and other wildlife. I spent a couple of nights in a game
camp where the baboons wandered around unfettered. I spent the days
driving around and watching the animals before heading back to collect the
airplane. I then flew over the mountains back to Johannesburg.
Harrison asked me to wait in Jo'berg
until I was contacted by a friend of his who wanted to be flown out of
Cape Town. I took the Blue Train, which along with the Orient Express was
one of the most exclusive trains in the world at that time. There were
many servants, the food was excellent and the service extraordinary. For
example, there was a special little compartment that was accessible to the
hallway. If you put your shoes in it before retiring, they would be shined
when you picked them up next morning.
In Cape Town I went to the local
airport to see where I could get another airplane. I stayed long enough to
do some flying and make the necessary arrangements before heading back by
air to Jo'berg, and to wait the 10 days as instructed. Nobody contacted me
during that time, so I booked a flight and headed back to Canada.
I chose to return home via Rio de
Janeiro and New York. When I got to Winnipeg I spent a few days at home
before leaving for Pickle Lake, Ontario where I would spend the winter
hauling fuel in a DC-3.
Oxfam called again a few weeks later
and asked if I would consider going back to South Africa to do it again.
They told me to take Gloria and our 2-year old daughter, Sara, as well.
But Gloria had been to South Africa on a vacation a few years earlier and
refused to consider taking such a risk. When I heard rumors that a
Canadian pilot had been caught and put in jail in South Africa, I decided
once was enough.
Image© by John S Goulet
Note from the Editor.
A true story by Lorne Alfred Goulet. Before he retired, Lorne had
accumulated over 30,000 hours, flying mostly for Transair. He was with
them during the wonder years as they grew from a bush operation to being
Manitoba's regional airline. Transair was eventually bought out by Pacific
Use the attitude indicator as your guide back to Inside Africa.
Top of this story.
Editor John S Goulet
Last modified on
March 05, 2006 .
© Virtual Horizons, 1996.