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

25 September 2008

Pemba Medivac

"It's a go", crackled the voice on the telephone.

These were words that meant we could spring into action but three 'o' clock in the afternoon was now a bit late in the day.

We had been advised of the possibility of doing a medivac at midday and had got ourselves and the plane ready. The patient had been admitted to hospital and the doctors had suspected meningitis or cerebral malaria, either of which could lead to death within a day or two if immediate treatment wasn't given. But the patient was more than half way back to the equator from where we were and getting to them that day was now out of the question. Pemba is on the very north coast of Mozambique more than a thousand miles from Mercy Air and even in a plane that does over 170 mph, it was going to be a long way.

We have friends a third of the way up in Beira and a quick phone call secured us a lift from the airport and a bed for the night - we were very grateful. We arrived after dark and were up again before dawn to continue up to Pemba. The patient in question was actually a friend of ours from previous mission trips and had asked for a nurse to come along to monitor him during the flight. In a way it was good to see him again although not quite under these circumstances. After airport paperwork and waiting for the patient to arrive from the hospital we were back in the air and on our way home, this time loaded up with his wife and two kids, one of which was just nine months old.

There's not much you can say about seven hours of flying at 10,000ft, and the haze from the bush fires meant that the view was only slightly more interesting than the hour and a half of dark after the sun went down.

We landed safely in South Africa last night just after 19:00 and they rang us this morning to say that he had been kept in hospital till two in the morning after extensive tests. So far things are looking good but they will stay here for at least the next week for observation and treatment if necessary.

So, it was another of those occasions where your whole day is changed by a single phone call. We were privileged to be the ones who were able to practically offer assistance but without the prayers and support of people like yourselves, Mercy Air would not be in that position.

Thank you.

Mercy Air team

13 September 2008

The Perfect Romantic Coup

Fly your wife to Mozambique for our anniversary and have a candlelit dinner in the evening.

And that's exactly what happened for one of Mercy Air's pilots, although as you might guess, that was only the tip of the iceberg as far as the story was concerned.

The reason they were actually flying to Mozambique on their anniversary was to take a doctor team to Marromeu on the Zambezi River. The candlelit dinner was courtesy of the fact that the missionaries at whose house they found themselves that night don't have electricity, and candles were the only way to light up the rice, beans, chicken and green veg they had for dinner.

It was apparently still romantic, and a very worthwhile trip. We have flown this group many times before and they had asked Cathy to accompany them as she knows about a lot of things that many doctors from the US haven't even heard of. The missionaries there have been working into the Delta region of the Zambezi for many years. They used to travel three days by dugout canoe to get there, stay a week, and then three days back often traveling at night to catch the tides. Our helicopter does the trip in 20 minutes and so each day it made a number of flights in order to get the doctors and translators to the remote village of Ibo. Paul stayed in Marromeu to fuel the heli each time it returned.
Whilst walking around in Ibo Cathy spotted a two month old baby which had diarrhorea and was severely dehydrated. The mother had died during childbirth and a young girl of 15 was looking after it. The team were able to put up an IV and give antibiotics and the next day the heli bought the baby to a care centre in Marromeu where it will stay until it is strong enough to survive. If this baby had not been seen and treated it would likely of died in a day or two.

The work in the delta is a pressing one. There are huge amounts of people who don't have access to any medical care whatsoever.

It is your prayers and support that help us go back to bring Christ's love to those people in need.

Thank you.

Mercy Air team


"I have a flight permit number for you." These were good words to hear over the satellite phone when we called to give our regular half hourly position report. We had less than an hour to run to Beira International Airport in Mozambique which was our first port of call on a flight taking people up who were involved in a re-development project. The trip had been arranged at relatively short notice but a national holiday in Mozambique the previous day had prevented us obtaining the official permit number. The only way forward was to set off early in the morning and have the Mercy Air office phone whilst the flight was taking place. Being armed with this short assortment of 'official' letters and numbers would potentially avoid a lot of hassle and red tape on our arrival at Beira.

We were met by a Christian friend who lives and works in Beira. Knowing we were coming his way he had asked us to buy some 'hard-to-obtain' groceries in South Africa and bring them up. He was glad for the small stash of luxury we could provide. He is also a pilot and introduced us to Hans, a German friend of his who was refueling his plane just in front of ours. Hans was doing a low level game count survey flying and two days earlier had been taking off after refueling at Cuamba, a military airfield two hours flight to the north. He had heard a 'rat-ta-tat' and after years of flying in the Congo recognised it as machine gun fire. He quickly banked and flew at tree top level away from the airfield. On landing back in Beira he found two bullet holes in his aircraft. One had gone through the wing and missed the fuel tank by less than 30cm, the other had hit the belly of the aircraft, entered a tool box and had destroyed a monkey wrench. Had it of gone further it might well of hit his wife who was sitting in the back seat. We looked at the bullet holes and exchanged stories. Mercy Air had been in Cuamba only two weeks earlier in the very plane we were flying and we had also taken a mission team up there the previous year.

This is a very isolated incident but it just got me thinking that when we ask you to pray for safety, it doesn't just cover weather, good decision making and the mechanical integrity of the aircraft.

Next week we are off to Moz with a team doing a medical mission in the Zambezi Delta. Likely another short update then.

Thanks again for your prayers and support.

Mercy Air team

02 June 2008

Can you fly to Livingstone... now?

Some have written recently wondering if we're still alive.

The good news is that we are, although finding time to write about what we've been up to seems night on impossible. Here's an attempt.

We have done a number of flights (as you would hope and expect). A more recent one saw us fly to Livingstone in Zambia - with 20 minutes notice. It was actually for another organisation who's pilot couldn't do the flight at the very last minute, and was a good exercise in planning as you go! It turned out to be a big day (and half a big night) and covered 1500 miles which is about the same as going from London to the north of Africa and half way back.

This Wednesday we have a flight to the north of Mozambique, returning the following day. The equivalent distance here would get him from the UK to Newfoundland.

Last weekend we hosted a missionary friend whom we knew in Lesotho and who is now working in Zimbabwe. When we went there for a holiday years ago we bought back a few bank notes as souvenirs. We still have them, a 5, 10 and 20 Zim Dollar note. Our friend was kind enough to donate a few of her current Zim notes to our collection and we now have a 10, 50 and a 250 million Zim Dollar note. So, we're millionaires, although the reality is that you need three of the 50 million ones to buy a can of Coke!

A number of Mercy Air staff are on furlough at the moment which again puts a lot pressure on the ones still here. We have therefore been extremely busy in the office. We are looking to sell our Beech 18 and we recently flew it to Johannesburg to show it off to some prospective buyers. We then worked on various proposals for it's replacement which we are hoping will be a pressurised turboprop aircraft. We have also had a big Civil Aviation inspection last week which we had to prepare for.

Mercy Air's helicopter is currently busy in the Zambezi Delta with mission and food distribution work. Matthias Reuter the pilot writes:

"After an intensive maintenance service, the Mercy Air helicopter was once again on its way to the poorest of the poor. We started working immediately after our flight from South Africa to the small town of Tambara on the Zambezi river. The goal of our mission was to provide further help to the victims of the flood at the beginning of the year. Using our helicopter, we transported many tons of goods in cargo nets to the people who lost everything in the border region between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Further downstream we brought more than 25 tons of food to a remote region at the shores of the Zambezi river. Everything from rice to beans, to flour and cooking oil was safely carried in the cargo netsbeneath the helicopter to the people in need.We were also able to provide medical support. In collaboration with the government of Mozambique, we carried out several vaccination campaigns for children and were able to airlift medical personnel to several remote villages. For most of the local people this is the only possibility to get medical help and medicine. Thank you very much for your help and support - it makes it possible for the "wings of love for people in need" to fly again - tomorrow."

Thank you

Mercy Air team

20 March 2008

Moz for an hour

As we haven't been in touch for a while, here is a short summary of the last few months activities in our hot and thundery neck of the woods.

We have done a number of short trips, mainly to Moz and on one occasion he stayed less than an hour!

This was all part of the plan though as the previous day we had received news of a man who needed urgent medical evacuation to Jo'burg.
Flight permits were obtained, plans made and we left early Sunday morning with the paramedic.

Our patient turned out to be the Captain of a ship that was delivering supplies to Beira. We picked him up after a three hour flight to Moz and then flew him another four hours to Jo'burg where an ambulance met him at the plane.

Another flight two weeks ago involved taking an elderly couple to Pretoria for urgent medical tests.

We spent last Thursday in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He managed to talk to a number of people whilst waiting for his passengers and it seems that things are as bad there as we are led to believe. One lady wanted to know when he was coming again and said he should bring food and bibles. With the elections less that a week away, many seem to think that the campaigning might be in vain, as the votes have likely already been counted.

Reminiscent of the dark days (nights) of 1971 and the coal miners strike in the UK, South Africa has been experiencing major Power Cuts recently. The reason is load shedding which basically means Eskom, the power company, hasn't got enough capacity to supply everyone at the same time. Unfortunately the future's looking pretty bleak as they don't reckon they'll have the problems sorted this side of 5-8 years. The joke, 'Eskom are sorry to announce that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off to conserve electricity' would be funny if it wasn't so true.

The upshot of this is that electricity prices are set to go up by over 50% soon, to help fund the construction of new power stations. This is on the back of a 50% rise in the price of petrol in the last year.

Mercy Air's helicopter is back in SA now for some routine maintenance on the tail rotor gearbox. Routine maintenance in this case involves shipping the gearbox off to New Zealand for overhaul. When it returns the heli has one more trip to make back up to Moz to finish off with the Zambezi flooding and then it will go to Lesotho to help Mission Aviation Fellowship transport materials to build a remote clinic in the mountains.

Thank you again for your prayers and support which make things like the above possible.

Mercy Air team