‘What a blessing that I was here at the right time with the aeroplane’.
Flying Mission Zambia pilot Andy Kradolfer explains further:
‘I was flying from Lusaka International to Chitokoloki with two doctors on board. They are part of an organisation that undertakes medical outreaches in remote areas. After the 2.5 hour flight through beautiful landscapes, we landed on a short grass airstrip. Today I could park the aeroplane in the hangar because the plane that is usually based here was away for a couple of days. I finished the post-landing checks and secured the aeroplane for the night. I would stay here for two nights, while the doctors performed surgeries at the local hospital.
I stayed with one of the local missionary doctors and everything was organised: meals scheduled and rooms ready. It was great. I was happy to see well-known faces and was looking forward to catching up with the folks to hear what has been going on since I was here last time. In the afternoon, I was relaxing on the veranda when the doctor came to me asking; “Are you able to do a medivac?” Immediately I said “yes” but then I wondered: where do I need to go, who needs to be picked up, who is coming along, what is the condition of the landing strip, how far away, do we have a stretcher?
Now events started happening rather quickly. I grabbed my things and drove out to the hangar, informing the dispatcher. While I was getting the plane ready again, one of the missionaries removed the back seat to put the stretcher in. Within 30 minutes the engine was purring in anticipation. The missionary would come with me to a short grass strip 25 minutes north of Chitokoloki. It is right next to the river and usually totally flooded during this time of the year. I thanked God that the rain has been less than usual. On arrival overhead, I saw that the water was only on one side. Still, the question remained: is the ground wet and sticky? I was flying the plane with the smallest tyres of our fleet and this one does not do well in soft runway conditions. I decided to do a low pass and possibly a second one for a wheel roll test. (This means that I touch the wheels for a moment to see how much resistance there is.) I could tell that the surface was dry so I decided not to do the wheel roll. I turned around and completed the landing nicely.
The patient was waiting in an “ambulance,” the back of a pickup. The patient was a lady who could not deliver the afterbirth following childbirth. She had lost lots of blood and was in a critical condition. A blood transfusion was set up and the nurse prepared her for the flight. With the help of bystanders we loaded her into the plane. (This plane is not specifically equipped for medivacs, so we improvised: the restraint system for the patient was made from cargo straps and the drip was fixed to the ceiling with a rag screwed to a panel. It works quite safely that way.)
As always, we prayed before the flight. Today I felt that this prayer was very special. We brought this lady before the Creator knowing that He is in control. It is comforting that it is not up to us to save this woman’s life. We do what we can, but God is the one who gives life and takes it in His time. Loaded with patient, husband, and newborn baby, I started the engine. I knew that we were facing limitations on this runway. We were now having temperatures of 34 degree Celsius, and a short, unimproved runway with obstacles and trees at the departure end. Carefully I re-calculated the take-off, taking into account all of those factors again before I started my take-off roll. As expected, the performance was reduced due to surface conditions, the small tyres and the high temperatures. I reached ‘the point of no return’ and all looked as I had expected so I continued the take-off. After we lifted off, the plane performed even better than I expected: it wanted to climb!
With a patient on board it is always important that changes are very minimal. I kept the climb shallow, looking for calm air to give a smooth flight as much as possible. 25 minutes later, I started a shallow descent. Again, landing needs to be smooth so I gave it all I had. As soon as the propeller stopped, the hospital workers approached the plane and started unloading the patient. She was carried to the back gate of the hospital. (The hangar is conveniently connected.)
We finished the flight by removing all the medical equipment and re-installing the seats. The lady was in surgery right after arrival, and so far she has survived. We know that she would not have managed the 2+ hours’ drive over the bumpy road in the back of that pick-up.
Thanks for coming along on this flight as we serve the people of Zambia.