Kato is still smiling as she arrives home!
My amazing flying machine is safely in its hangar, and I am safe at home. Yesterday (May 27th) was my final flight before we left Kinkongo!
Kato, a 25 year old woman has been in the hospital for over two years with an ulcerated leg. A sore that extended from her ankle all the way up her thigh.
Rita has been visiting her regularly and we promised her that if her sore healed, she would get a flight home. Yesterday, I received a note that the doctor had released Kato, and she did not want to spend another night in the hospital bed.
Kato is from Kiniangi, a village about 12 miles away in a straight line. The road is much further. Most people take the short cut through the valleys and across the hills. The only way Kato would otherwise be able to go home was on the back of a bicycle, being pushed by a couple of people. That would take all day and be very hard on a weak body. As it is, Kato can only walk now with a crutch.
I began observing the weather in the afternoon trying to decide if it was safe to fly with thunderheads around and a brisk cross wind. Around 3PM, I began to set up the machine and sent my bicycle up to the hospital to bring Kato down. No sooner had I carefully laid out the chute when the wind changed direction. Good for taking off, but a wind directly out of the direction I was headed. Oh well, at least I could take off safely and then evaluate the sky once I was up there.
Kato bravely sat in the back seat and was strapped in by my assistant, while I strapped her crutch and bag securely to the frame.
We took off into about a 10 MPH breeze, and it was a bit bumpy. All the time I was wondering how she was handling the new experience when I, the experienced one was wondering if I would have motion sickness with the bumpy ride. I was assured to hear her voice over the intercom. She was enjoying the scenery and had questions about the trails and villages we were flying over. This was a brave woman and was obviously not going to be intimidated by the new experience of flying in the open air with lots of space below her feet.
With the head wind, it took us about 35 minutes to get to Kiniangi instead of about 25 that I had anticipated. When I got overhead, I had a new issue. Everyone was crowding around the soccer field, but no one remembered to put up my orange ribbon to show the wind direction. Actually, I knew the wind direction, but I couldn't land in the direction I intended. There were two tall palm trees right in the way. With the wind, I could not safely fly to the side of them. I tried about five different approaches and just could not get it right. Finally, I came in using the shorter width of the field rather than the length. I managed to stop with the front wheel on the trail at the edge of the field.
Lots of cheers for Kato, but disappointment that I could not spend more time with them. “Can you at least say a prayer for us”? they asked. Yes, after I instructed the young men how we could move the chute and the machine to my takeoff point, I had a brief talk, and a prayer. After leaving Kato in the hands of her happy family, I was off into the sky again on my way back to Kikongo.
What a difference to take off from a field without all my video gear. I was off the ground in no time. It was getting late, but I had the wind to my back, so had an enjoyable and quick flight. I flew low over the river where Rita was tending Mazu. I then flew around Kikongo one last time, in the setting sun.
My logbook shows 101 hours and 235 flights. This was the first flight that we could consider a “medical” flight. I have been reluctant to takeoff from a soccer field with a passenger. My trips to villages have always been with the A/V equipment, but this was the first time with a passenger. It has been an amazing ride pioneering this tool that seems so appropriate for this sort of rural environment.
Thanks for your prayers for our safety.
Glen and Rita