Mercy One – A Light in the Emergency

Written by First Officer Adrian Gut.

“Mercy One”. This is our call sign for Air Traffic Control (ATC) when we fly our medical missions for the Ministry of Health here in Botswana. If several of us are flying, it can sometimes be “Mercy Two” or “Mercy Three”. Mercy is translated here as grace, compassion, or blessing. I find all of these translations really suitable for this work we are doing here at Flying Mission Services (FMS).

On December 30, 2012, at 2:18 am, a phone call launched one of my busiest days in the service of FMS, and as it turned out, it would be like several to follow. The message was to fly to Maun, pick up a man with serious head injuries and take him as quickly as possible to Francistown, the larger regional hospital.

Since the major airports in Botswana close at 10:00 pm and open again at 6:00 am, our “flight follower” (this is the person coordinating our flights and also, for safety reasons, following our flight from the ground) had to call the airfields first and ask them to reopen. It was shortly after 3:00 am when we checked the tower frequency for our “start clearance” (start-up approval) and started the engines. After receiving the release of our instrument flight plan to Maun, we could start at our own risk. It was at our own risk, because the tower informed us that at this time no runway control was in service. Thus, it could not be guaranteed that no objects or animals were on the runway. The start and also the whole flight were then completed uneventfully, so we arrived in Maun just after 5:00 am. Even there the tower had been opened just for our aircraft, “Mercy One”.

morning sky over botswana loading stretcher

After 20 minutes we were already back at the aircraft, starting preparations for the flight to Francistown, and shortly after half past five we were back in the air.

loading patient

Shortly before 7:00 am we landed in Francistown, and the patients were transported by the paramedics in the FMS ambulance to the larger regional hospital.

During breakfast at the Wimpy, we received a new call to pick up a 7-year-old girl in Shakawe that was hit by a falling tree.

So a little after 9:00 am, we were in the air again headed for Shakawe.

After about 40 minutes on the ground, we were back in the air to transport the patient as quickly as possible to Francistown.

copilot Adrian GutAt 2:25 pm, we arrived in Francistown again. We knew that we now had been on duty for 12 hours. This meant that for an emergency we could still fly within the next two hours, but after that we needed a rest period of at least eight hours to comply with our flight operations manual.

Little did we know that the next call was already coming. This time patients in Kasane needed our help as soon as possible.

So shortly after 3:00 pm we were already back in the air, and we brought these patients to Francistown also.

Sunset in Francistown

Back in Francistown, we were now definitely “timed out” and had to stay there for rest.

The next morning, on December 31, we left at 7:45 am to Gaborone, where the plane was refueled and prepared for further service.

At 10:15 am I arrived home and was working to plug my cell phone in to charge when it rang again. A patient in Kasane with severe abdominal and gastrointestinal symptoms needed to be transported as soon as possible to Francistown.

Normally we should be in the air within 45 minutes. This time we asked for a 10 minute extension, to take a quick breakfast.


Shortly after 11:30 am, we were again in the air to take the patients the help they needed as quickly as possible.

That day we were able to return to Gaborone shortly before 8:00 pm. I was back home with my family, and Jeannette had prepared a wonderful dinner. I admit the temptation was great to stay up until midnight to toast the New Year. A sense told me, however, it is better to “early to bed …”

At 3:34 am came the SMS, “Good morning, Happy New Year. We have our first flight for 2013. Kasane – Francistown.”

At 4:25 am we were ready to start the engines. Only this time when we contacted the tower frequency, no one answered. We had to get in touch with Area Control (which monitors the airspace throughout Botswana 24 hours a day) and, due to the medical emergency, we were cleared to start our engines for takeoff.

A lot of work, a lot of impressions, but also much gratitude and satisfaction in performing this service for the people of Botswana. We are thankful that FMS can again this year be a light in the emergency to a lot of people here in Botswana.