Captain’s Log-18 April 2014-Emmanuel De Merode-Ambushed on Goma Road

Chief Warden, Emmanuel De Merode of Virunga National Park in front of Mt Makeno in East DRC

Chief Warden, Emmanuel De Merode of Virunga National Park in front of Mt Makeno in East DRCongo

You have seen posts here of my friend Emmanuel, the Chief Warden of the Virunga National Park. I have had the opportunity to help him with his aircraft maintenance and doing some checkout for him in the parks Cessna 182. He has a huge job protecting this important area of Congo. Virunga was actually the first National Park in all of Africa and is yet still very unknown. It is an amazing place with gorillas, multiple active volcanoes, elephants, lakes and snow capped glacial mountains.

Emmanuel at the funeral of one of his other rangers.

Emmanuel at the funeral of one of his other rangers.

There has been much violence in the past years. Rangers are targeted regularly by militia groups that roam the park and over 120 have been killed in the last 15 years. A bit more risky than a Parks post in the States!

The story as I heard it this week on Tuesday Emmanuel was returning from Goma to the station at Rumangabo when he was ambushed by AK wielding gunmen who, shot up the parks vehicle as he drove alone, hitting him 4 times. He was somehow able to get out of the vehicle and shoot back a bit but realized he was hit and then fell down. A motorcycle driver came down the road at that point and the men ran off, leaving Emmanuel for dead. This man, no doubt had a hand in saving Emmanuel’s life. The FARDC then took E. to a ranger station and they drove him back to Goma where he was in theatre at HEAL AFRICA hospital until after mid-night.

Emmanuel was in serious but stable condition. I was able to talk to him in the afternoon and he seems to be in good spirits, although naturally weakened by his ordeal.

I ask you to pray for his healing and protection as he mends.

Some of the rangers from Rumangabo station who we went with to see the mountain gorillas.

Some of the rangers from Rumangabo station who we went with to see the mountain gorillas.

You can follow the parks web site by clicking on the Gorilla blog logo at the side of this page.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Africa, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Captain’s Log- 4 March 2014-My Sister LuAnne

Mozambique Mosque

Mozambique Mosque  Picture by LuAnne Cadd

As you might know from reading here, I have a lovely and talented sister who is responsible for many of the wonderful photos on my blog.  There is a link to her blog in the column to the right.  I was just checking out her recent trip to Madagascar and I was blown away by the truly great pictures she takes.   It is fun for me that I have been with and around and in many of the pix, especially the wildlife ones.  But there are so many striking pictures of the world that amaze and astound.   It makes me smile to see them.  Check it out at:  http://www.luannecadd.com/

Mozambican men bring the boat ashore after a day on the ocean

Mozambican men bring the boat ashore after a day on the ocean.  Picture by LuAnne Cadd

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Captain’s Log-12 December2013- Sanded

Walking the lake shore at Kariba near Bumi Hills I ran across a nice rubbing post frequented by elephants.

Walking the lake shore at Kariba near Bumi Hills, I ran across a nice rubbing post frequented by elephants.

I was still standing but many around had fallen. Dave had come off his motorcycle and separated his shoulder, Cher was very sick and needing my help, a plane at the airport had a flat tire on landing and we had 2 planes, one overhead that needed to land right away. So I had to get out to see if I could help clear it, which I did. But not before our MAF-UG flight had to turn around and go back to Entebbe, leaving passengers here who were going to miss connecting international flights. So, we had to put on another flight with an overnight for the pilot. Got a $13,0000 bill for someone to “inspect” our new aircraft. And so on.

As we talked “beside the fire” I told Bisoke about some of this and I think he could see some of the tiredness in my eyes. He said, “Jon, you know we Africans have a saying about leaders. They are like our traditional houses. There is a center post in the middle of the house and everyone coming in leans on it. They wipe their hands on it after they have eaten or blown their nose, they rest their backs against it when they sit, the goats rub up against it. It is just there where everyone needs it for something and it supports the roof to keep the rain from falling on us. But nobody thinks too much about how it is until it breaks.”

As I looked into the coals and contemplated that, I remembered my experience in the bush were I would be on a walk and come across stumps or tree trunks close to where animals came to drink and bathe. They got all muddy and then got out and rubbed up against the wood until it was as smooth as if someone had taken a belt sander to it. It was really quite beautiful in the midst of the rough surroundings to see mahogany or mopane or other African hardwoods shinny and smooth just from elephant, rhino and buffalo rubbing their rough skin on it. I hope that while I am the center post I become shiny rather than getting “rubbed the wrong way” and breaking. Maybe a lot of that is in the way one looks at the “sanding” process. There is friction and heat and pain as it is happening. But we are looking for the final outcome. Aye, there’s the rub!

There is a verse in the Bible that says, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience…James 1:2-4

This old post rubbed smooth over years is ready for varnish

This old post, rubbed smooth over years is beautiful and ready for varnish.

Posted in Amazing Africa, Going Deeper, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Captain’s Log- 24- November 2013-My Friend Jerry Roquemore

Jerry on the cover of a body building magazine.  He was an excellent teacher on the subject.

Jerry on the cover of a body building magazine. He was an excellent teacher on the subject.

I got the letter from Harald Gorges this morning saying that our friend, Jerry Roquemore, had passed on to be with his Lord.   It is a funny feeling to have known someone who got old and worn out and have people look at them as if all they are is a worn out old man or woman without a history that was extraordinary or full of adventure or amazingly beautiful or strong.   Now, with the shell of a person all you have to look at.  I even find that I can forget some of my past in the same way.  Maybe that is why we write things like this.  To remember some of the cool.

Pose of a body builder.

Pose of a body builder.

 

 

Jerry, Harald and I were kind of like the three musketeers for a while there in Yap.  We worked on a little worn out Cessna 150 so we could teach Harold how to fly.  We did some bodybuilding because Jerry used to be a world class body builder, Venice Beach, California.   He even had his pix on the cover of some magazines.  That was a bit before Arnold Schwarzenegger made it all famous.  But Jerry and I would work out in the evenings after flights.  He really knew what he was doing and I got in pretty good shape.  But I don’t think I was dedicated as much I might have been.

Jerry Roqumore on the cover of a body building magazine

Jerry Roquemore on the cover of a body building magazine

Jerry was also a champion Parachute jumper, had won competitions and was even a silver medalist in world competitions.  This was before the days of wing type chutes when it actually took more skill to hit a spot on the ground from high in the air.  I had flown jumpers in my early flying career but never actually jumped.  Cher jumped a couple times and it was a very strange thing watching your world fly out the door of a perfectly good airplane like that.  So, Harald and I took the training with Jerry.  But when the time came, there was nobody to fly the plane for my jump.  That is OK with me.  I always felt that there was a little truth to the saying that “there are only two things that fall out of the sky, bird crap and fools.”

We liked to explore the island with all the old World War II aircraft and anti-aircraft guns and other leftovers all over the jungle.  We even dived a couple of shipwrecks.   It was good adventure.

Jerry Roquemore with Cher, Me and the Boys in the outer islands

Jerry Roquemore with Cher, Me and the Boys in the outer islands of Micronesia.  We were always showered with leis. And isn’t my lovely wife beautiful?

I have already written about some of our flying adventures and of a night flight to pick up a little boy who had sliced his arm with a machete and getting lost going to Woleai Atoll and running out of fuel on the way back in the Micronesia section of True Tales.  In later years Jerry really encouraged us in our faith and focused me on the prize instead of the pain of life, which was great when he was the one suffering most.

In the end, I always felt like I had a great wingman in Jerry.  When he was around there was always someone guarding my back and willing to make the sacrifice for the team.  I will always be glad for the time we spent together and remember to tell our stories around the campfire.

It is a wonderful feeling to know someone has your back.  Jerry was always like that for me.  I will miss him.

It is a wonderful feeling to know someone has your back. Jerry was always like that for me. I will miss him.

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Captain’s Log- 17 November 2013- “1000 Zandi Bibles flown to Central African Republic”

hundreds of school kids at the Zemio Post airstrip in CAR

hundreds of school kids at the Zemio Post airstrip in CAR

I had a great trip up to CAR this week.  In Bunia we loaded up 1000 Zandi language Bibles and flew to Isiro where I picked up Wendy Atkins, a missionary with Africa Inland Mission, and then flew up to Zemio on the CAR/Congo border.  It is quite a beautiful place on a hill overlooking country that looks like elephant and buffalo should be roaming in the grassland and along the winding river that is the border between the two countries.    It was a surprise to see Ugandan troops guarding the town airstrip against LRA activity, but there were hundreds of kids there as well and all wanted to see the plane.

We hand over the Bibles at Zemio mission.

We hand over the Bibles at Zemio mission.

After a short 3 minute flight to the mission airstrip we parked in front of the old hangar surrounded by large, aging mango trees and the people came to greet Wendy.  They were so excited to see that we had brought boxes of Bibles along and, after we unloaded them all, we had a prayer of dedication.

Men stack up boxes of Bibles for distribution in the area.

Men stack up boxes of Bibles for distribution in the area.

I had a chance to talk to a couple of the Congolese pastors who lead a community of refugees who have fled the violent LRA in their area.  A group of them had tried to return to their homes in Assa, DRC last month, but after crossing the river and getting down the road about 8 kilometers they were surrounded by LRA, abducted and forced to carry loot for almost a week before they were released one by one, all their things having been stolen.  They came back to Zemio were there is relative peace.  It is hard to imagine the hardships endured as a normal part of life for so many here.  It is great to be of help and encourage in some small way.  Sometimes one is just a minor player in the group of people who make things happen.  But I feel blessed to be here working at the end of a long process in which many people did many and varied jobs to bring the word of God to the Zandi in their heart language.

We have a prayer of dedication beside the plane.

We have a prayer of dedication beside the plane.

In the remains of the day I walked though the long grass down the hill toward the river.  There were beautiful birds like the colorful Ross’s Turaco and big Black and White hornbills.  It was so wet that I could not get all the way there but it was great to watch the sun set in the Borassus palms and thick riverine growth of trees that line the Bomu river.  Another lovely day at the office.

Beautiful Ross's Turaco. the most beautiful part is the under wings being bright red.

Beautiful Ross’s Turaco. the most beautiful part is the under wings being bright red but I guess that is just my opinion.  They are quite stunning and unusual.  They also have a great call

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Africa, Mission | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Captain’s Log-10 November 2013-Mixing Minefields and First Landings ona Road

One of the cool things about this Blog has been the connections I have made with old friends I haven’t seen or heard from for a long while.  I recently received greetings from one of these friends who reminded me of some adventures I had not thought of in a long time.  I thought I would just write one of those stories down here as a tribute to the amazing work of truly wonderful people, from very hard times in history that should not be forgotten:

First landings at new airstrips are always interesting and have that little extra anticipation to go along with the unknown.   When the war in Mozambique was heating up in Tete province and there were thousands of refugees fleeing into Zimbabwe and the relative safety there, we were asked by Y.W.A.M. to transport their people and supplies to the camp that was forming near the northwest border town of Mukosa.  There had been an old airstrip in the area from Rhodesian war days but we could not find a sign of it flying over.  So Don Winter and I landed at the closest airstrip we could find, which was the Catholic mission station at Marymount.  It was a long way away but one of the priests volunteered to drive us up there in his beat up little Mazda pickup and we bounced down the dirt road for about an hour to get to the camp.

As we looked around for an appropriate place to land in the area we found a section of road that was long enough. The only problem was that it had some “obstacles”.   As the road came around a corner to the straight, useable part there was a huge Baobab tree right on the approach end which would mean we would have to clear that and then drop down quickly to use all the length we could.  Then the road climbed uphill in about 4 little steps.  These steps had the effect of throwing the plane back up in the air as soon as it was on the ground.  It was narrower than we would have liked but this was a short-term solution in an emergency situation so we cut overhanging branches and got it pretty good.  The only turnaround was at the top of the hill where the straight part of the road teed into another dirt road so we were also limited on length.  The other small problem was that there was a minefield on the other side of this dirt road.  So, I guess you could say there was motivation to get stopped in time.   There were even signs with scull and cross bones and DANGER MINE FIELD in big red letters.  It was going to make for an interesting strip.

Zimbabwe had thousands of Mozambique refugees pouring across the border who had to negotiate the minefields.

Zimbabwe had thousands of Mozambican refugees pouring across the border who had to negotiate the minefields.

The minefield was a left over from the Rhodesia days and it circled the whole northern border of the country.  Over the years the mines had shifted and it was very difficult to de-mine.  There was probably not a lot of willingness to take out the deterrent anyway, so many of the refugees sneaking across the border got their legs blown off and other terrible injuries.

We drove back to Marymount and jumped in the Cessna 206 for the first landing at Mukosa.  Don got in the left seat to make the first landing and did a fine job.  Then we changed places and I made a couple of landings.  Then we headed back to Charles Prince airport where MAF Zimbabwe had its base.

The next day I did the first operational flight into Mukosa with Y.W.A.M. people and I even brought along our Africa area director, who was visiting and wanted to see the camp.  A lovely landing, if I do say so myself.  We turned the plane around and pushed it off the main part of the little road as much as we could and went to the refugee camp.  It is always a bit staggering to see people starving after a long walk to get to some dusty place with no food or water.  And there were many injured.  The Y.W.A.M.  nurses were working with them and it felt good to be doing a little to relieve some of the suffering.

It was getting late and we needed to make a start if we were going to get back to Harare before sunset so we headed back to the plane.  We loaded up and I started the plane.  The dust was quite amazing and I felt a bit bad about dusting up the crowd of people that had gathered to watch.

I added power slowly so as not to pick up too many stones as I started rolling over the rocks a bit before putting in the rest of the power for take off.  But with the downhill grade I gathered speed quickly as I crested the first of the steps.  Just as I went over, to my horror a bus came around the corner skidding sideways to take up the entire width of the road in front of me!  There was no way I could stop the plane in time and I was accelerating pretty well, so I continued the take-off and popped over the bus with meters to spare.

I circled the airstrip and waited for the dust to settle to see what would happen.  The bus was still sitting in the same place.  He sat there while I circled 2 more times.  Then finally he started straightening out the bus and carried on up the hill.

The next day I was back with another load of medicines and I looked all up and down the road in the area before landing.  I walked down to the refugee camp and into the makeshift clinic where they were working with patients.  There was a new Dutch nurse there, Anneke Douma.  I had met her once at Don and Marian Winters’ house, but didn’t know her well.  She greeted me and said, “you had an exciting day yesterday!”  I said, “Oh? How is that?”  She reminded me about the bus and I agreed with her.  She said it had been exciting for her as well.  She was on the bus!    She told me of how they had come around the corner only to see a propeller coming out of a huge cloud of billowing dust.  The driver had panicked and skidded sideways in the road while yelling at the passengers, “Everybody prepare to die!”

After that we made a point of sending a person to the bottom of the hill each time we took off to signal that the way was clear for the takeoff.

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Captain’s Log-26 October 2013-Not Getting Shot in an Airplane

UN helicopter bringing supplies while ladies carry loads of grass the old way.  On their heads.  The grass is for repairing the roofs on their houses before the rains get too bad.

UN helicopter bringing supplies while ladies carry loads of grass down the airstrip the old way, on their heads. The grass is for repairing the roofs on their houses before the rains get too bad.

Today there was a report of M23 shooting at UN helicopters and a possible plan for FARDC to use their helicopter gunships against Cobra’s FRPI militia just south of us.  I wrote an email to our pilots warning them to stay a bit higher in these areas and give them a wider berth.  I got a letter back from our new lady pilot asking “exactly how high do you need to fly over people shooting at you?” It brought back a flood of memories.  It is a peculiar part of flight training for the average pilot to know how not to be hit by ground fire, but there could be a valuable lesson there I guess.

Going high is a good option.  But how high?  I was once flying down the Mozambique coast with Peter Cunningham between Beira and Inhambane when we heard what sounded like someone had thrown a handful of gravel against the side of the plane.  We were at about 2000 feet and it was a bit of a shock but although we could see slight marks along the side of the plane by the tail, there was no real damage to the plane at all.  I would probably say be above 3000 feet to avoid small arms fire.

The go high doesn’t always work when you are taking off and landing.   I was taking off from a refugee camp after dropping off a load of food northeast of Tete.  Another plane was on the ground and the pilot, Russell Kilner, got on the radio and asked, with some intensity in his voice, if I was alright.  I had not even heard a thing but he assured me that I was being shot at as I took off.  It is common to sit off the end of a runway and fire at the low and slow moving planes as they depart.   The standard practice is to come in high over the airport and make a very steep approach to land, giving the least amount of time as a target.  Then just climb as fast as you can on departure avoiding the areas with cover for shooters.

When I was in the environment of flying bullets I asked many questions of people with experience and the old Rhodesian war pilots told me they liked to stay low.  Very low indeed.   Maybe 200 feet.  The idea was that if you were low, the people on the ground could hear you coming but not see you for the trees until you were right overhead.  Then their time to shoot at you would be so limited it would be very hard to get off a good shot.  It is a nice concept but it does depend on good ground cover.  I can tell you that it doesn’t work well flying down a river!  You could read more about that in the story “Shot At and Hit”, in True Tales – Mozambique on this site.  I have been hit using this technique without much cover, but it is not without merit. The problem comes when you are not actually going by in a blur and you are going off the horizon.  You then look more stationary and guys can shoot high and hit you.  I do remember being very happy for bags of grain or cement to put in the pod went I was getting shot at.  I would always try to place them strategically to protect the people.

In the end, thankfully, it is pretty hard to hit a plane flying by at 120+ mph and it takes a bit of luck or shooting skill that is not common.  God has also watched over us as we fly.  I can’t help being glad for that.

UN Mi-8 helicopter flown by Bangladeshi troops.

UN Mi-8 helicopter flown by Bangladeshi troops.

Posted in Adventure, Pilot stuff, Pilot Technique | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments