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Unexpected Hospitality

I was flipping through my logbook recently when I came across this picture glued alongside a series of entries. The Saturday flight was uneventful: my old school buddy Dave Parratt wanted to do some aerial photography, so I offered to take him up for a flight over the city.

Sunday’s flight was a little more interesting. My passenger and I were flying back to Johannesburg from a remote spot in the north-west of the country. Scattered between thousands of acres of untamed bushveld we spotted the occasional farmstead. Talk about being isolated.

Without warning the cabin of the helicopter started to fill with the smell of burnt rubber. Being summer I had removed the doors, so at least the air could circulate, but there was still the threat of fire. Luckily, just ahead, I noticed an open paddock. Initiating an emergency landing, I aimed for the field. A second or two later, the alternator light blinked on.

After an incident-free landing (thanks to many hours of practice under the watchful eye of Slade Healy, Barry Roberts and a few other old air force instructor friends), I grabbed the fire extinguisher and rushed to the engine compartment. Fortunately, it was nothing more than a snapped V-belt that had landed on the engine block and had started cooking.

Being a weekend, over a hundred of the farmer’s laborers and children poured out of their homes to come and gawk at this unusual appearance. Pushing their barefoot kids to the front of the circle, the adults chattered excitedly about this unexpected novelty.

Like something out of a Spielberg action movie, a hush descended upon the scene as the gathering crowd parted obediently. With his wife in tow, the farmer strode into the circle carrying a tray of glasses and a jar of iced lemonade.

Talk about unexpected hospitality in the middle of nowhere.

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