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Padang Earthquake

09/10/2009

Not long after I returned to work a there was a massive earthquake centred off the western coast of Sumatra on the 30th of September. That night I was informed I would be flying there the following morning.

We arrived at the aircraft very, very early -well before the sun was up and proceeded to pre-flight the aircraft. We also needed to check the load we were taking and make sure everything was secured and balanced. Eventually after sorting out the loading of the 700 kg’s of rice and noodles and boarding our 2 military passengers we took-off for the 2 hour flight to Padang.

Because the weather wasn’t terribly nice we weren’t able to survey the damage from above. The airport was an absolute hive of activity and we were cleared to park on stand 7 next to our company Piaggio Avanti which had flown a government minister up from Jakarta. We sorted out unloading of the supplies and headed over to the VIP terminal where there was still no power and no phone service on any of the mobile networks. An agent from the UK had contacted the company to charter us from Singapore to Padang. So one the engines on the Piaggio had to be started so the satellite phone could be used.

Not long after that another company Caravan arrived from Jakarta and we started the process for the international charter of all 3 aircraft. This took an awful lot of time but eventually we were on our way. The Piaggio left first for what would be only a 40 minute flight for them. For us in the lowly Caravan however it was a 2 hour journey to Singapore. We were kindly and efficiently vectored by Singapore and landed at Seletar Airport, parking next to the Piaggio which was nearly ready to depart. There were 15 journalists and an awful lot of gear to take, 7 would go in the Piaggio with 8 going in the Caravan from Jakarta which is our VIP model. Some of the gear could be placed in the in the pods of the VIP Caravan but the rest would need be secured in the main cabin of our aircraft and the pods below.

After stuffing around and finally getting through immigration at Seletar just so I could go to the other side of the glass and inspect the cargo. I had to break the bad news to the journalists, we would not be able take their cargo in its entirety. There was just too much, I told them they would need to prioritise and gave them an idea of what we would be able to fit. They were able to come to a decision on what to take which included some very large boxes for the ‘portable’ satellite equipment and then it had to go through customs screening. That added on an awful lot of time and I was now back at the apron getting very antsy about our departure. Seletar airport closes at 6.30opm Singapore time and we were going to be cutting it fine.

Finally the cargo arrived and the VIP Caravan’s passengers were ready so they left. Being the versatile pilots that we are my copilot and I were left to load the cargo with the help of the handlers from Hawker Pacific. Thankfully we were not carrying passengers as loading cargo in a tight space in tropical Singapore quickly resulted in sweating like a…

After securing the load we requested engine start at 6.15pm Singapore Time. We were informed that Padang ATC were advising there was not enough space on the apron and they may turn flights away. We said we would take our chances (we could always backtrack to Pekanbaru) and got clearance to start and then taxi for the runway. We were number 4 in the taxi queue behind another Indonesian-registered aircraft bound for Padang. The taxi queue was slow moving because Seletar ATC must coordinate with another 3 airports in what is very, very tight airspace. We lined up after the closing time and I was very thankful that they let us depart.

After arrival and unloading in Padang we fuelled up and waited for another company aircraft from Medan. The VIP Caravan fuelled up and headed for Pekanbaru to overnight seeing Padang is a disaster-zone. After the Caravan arrived from Medan we swapped copilots and then it was home time!

A very long duty day, followed thankfully by a day off. Company aircraft have since been quite busy with charters to Padang and I will likely be heading there tomorrow afternoon on another charter. This time I will try and get some photos.

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