Saturday spotlight: flight terror

How a scenic tour almost went horribly wrong

Although we had included Birdsville in the itinerary we could not access it by road as the floodwaters beat us to it. This disappointed many, but Ivan chartered an 8-seater plane to fly there from Innamincka and return. The pilot was new to the area, and hadn’t done his night instrumentation ticket. When the flight left Birdsville to go south it was, I thought, a bit late. We then encountered strong headwinds. Before long we were flying in the dark. I became very bloody nervous, so much so that I started the video rolling in the hope that someone would find it in the ruins of our crash. The illuminated oilwell camps looked very different from the air. Eventually the pilot succumbed to my suggestion to call our group’s UHF channel to tell them of our plight. I outlined the airstrip orientation to the pilot, and told him about the Telstra tower at the top of the hill. "What tower?" he asked. It was unlit, no night-light, but substantial enough to strip off a wing. I thought of jobs I’d left unfinished. By car lights we landed after three passes, a local pilot on the ground having been called in to direct the landing. When the doors were opened, some of us were so frozen with fear we couldn’t move to climb out of the plane. Dozens of people came into the pub to meet those who had a very close shave, and the young pilot was taken outside and given a ferocious dressing down. I wonder where that videotape is – must find it.

  • Caravan World columnist Lloyd Junor owns Aussie Outback Publishing, which produces outback-themed titles including his own, comprehensive The Australian RV and Caravanner's Guide.