Friday, June 19, 2009

The Frightening Flight from Canaima to Santa Elena

We arranged to fly to Santa Elena de Uairen on the border with Brazil on a Cessna 5-seater. This must be my most frightening flight ever. We left Canaima in bright sunshine but found ourselves flying through three separate storms in the next hour and 20 minutes.
Many a time we were flying between the vertical walls of tepuis rising much higher than us, and with just mist, clouds and minimal visibility ahead of us. Below us was the deep dark green canopy of the Amazonian jungle – the sort of impenetrable labyrinth where wreckages of lost planes were discovered only many decades after their crashes. Wind howled away and rain beat relentlessly against the metal sheets that made this tiny flying machine. There was one occasion when our plane literally stood still in the air, as we were up against winds in the opposite direction.
And guess what?  We were flown by a young trainee pilot with baby face and buffy hair, who was guided by a much more assuring trainer whom we guessed was his father, given their likeness and his affectionate pat over the younger man's shoulders. Even then, we prayed in silence through the episode. Santa Maria! With much relief, we reached Santa Elena safely…

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