Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Got e-mailed by a 'friend' who said my name had come up in a conversation late on Sunday over a few beers when someone referred to me as 'The Cannibal'. I need perhaps to put the record straight least I be accused of going completely native up here in Ngapuhi land.

I have always had a passion for flying although now-days I prefer someone else to do the piloting bit after one of my 'touch-and-goes' failed on the 'go' bit and the plane demolished the airfield boundary fence and ended up on an adjacent road ... I digress.

One day I got rung up by a Vietnam veteran who knew I was a pilot. He told me that he was dying of cancer and, after the event, would I be good enough to fly his wife and ashes over the Waiomu Valley in the Coromandel where he had spent many happy days hunting when she would disperse them to the winds. I agreed.

Some time later I got a call from the wife who said he had passed away and would I please now do the deed. I arranged to meet her at the Ardmore Airfield and she duly turned up with hubby in a box. I gave her a careful flight briefing. We would fly across the Hauraki Gulf direct to the Waiomu Valley where I would put the plane into a gentle right hand turn; she would open the cockpit window on her side; hold the box outside; open the lid and let the slipstream do its thing.

Pretty simple? Well perhaps, but I failed to take into account that this was a pretty emotional time for her and instructions can get a little bit mixed up when that happens. I can certainly confirm that she was pretty 'emotional' a little bit later on on the flight.

Everything went great until we reached Coromandel. Fine day; zip turbulence; VFR and all of that. Put the plane in a gentle right hand turn and said to her that it was time to let hubby go. I decided it would be proper to concentrate of flying the aircraft looking ahead and give her a bit of space to say a final goodbye ... bad move. She utterly buggered up the sequence; opened the cockpit window and then opened the box ... inside the aircraft.

Many of you will recall those ubiquitous glass balls that turned upside down and the Christmas scene that developed with snow falling heavily. Well, in the space of a couple of seconds that's what the cockpit resembled. Bits of hubby flying everywhere helped by a 130 knot wind blasting into the aircraft. Things deteriorated fast. Her initial scream was quickly replaced by an hysterical shout along the lines of 'I've just eaten him'. She then proceeded to projectile vomit over the front cockpit widow which tended to obscure my view forward. By this time I wasn't starting to feel too good either with bits of him (and her) attaching themselves to me. For the first only only time in my flying career I declared a PAN PAN PAN and headed to Thames sticking my head out of my window to stop me barfing up also. I did perhaps the most god-awful landing of my career and just slammed the aircraft onto ground, stopping quickly on the runway, and jumped out before I was sick too. An ambulance from Thames Hospital arrived shortly thereafter to take the lady away as she was a complete mess. Here endith the story (almost). What was left of hubby ended up in a vacuum cleaner. I never flew that plane again. Couldn't be sure if the grit on the floor was grit or hubby.

If that makes me a cannibal I plead guilty.


gravedodger said...

Forget about the eating warning, wasn't much chop in the LB recovering from a nasty bout of Tonsilitis either.
With a few hours of light Fix wings your story was a riot.
Proves the old one about any landing you walk away from etc.
That poor lady, I hope their relationship was not represented by Hubby's last word.
That Karma eh.

James said...

Great story. ;-)

Lindsay Mitchell said...

A salutory lesson. I wonder, even if you had adopted a slow-flying configuration, she would have managed a smooth expedition of the ashes?

Anonymous said...

My father wanted to have his ashes tipped out over Stratford airfield from a glider but it was obvious that we'd struggle because the opening panel in the canopy would be far too small to get the box outside. He changed his mind about that irrespective of the technical difficulties and his ashes got interred in the RSA plot in NP instead. I always wondered how it would have gone had he insisted and now I think I know. Hillarious.

The Veteran said...

Hi Lindsay .... if I remember I had flaps 20 or such-like but my big mistake was not watching her like a hawk.

Anonymous said...

Scaterring ashes from aircraft is always a tad messy. I did it in a DH Beaver, twice. Bad move about keeping the a/c at 130kts. The Beaver got slowed down to about 65mph. You can cause of those big wings But I digress. One still has to clean up the a/c afterwards as some of the ashes do tend lodge themselves in all those nook and crannies exposed to the wind and which gives you drag when you fly. Is it parasitic grag ?

Nice story but also a salutary one for all those still flying. As they say, there old pilots and bold pilots.

The Realist said...

Tell us what happened to the guy in front of you that time you jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane.

Anonymous said...

Probably should have told her to throw the whole container out with the lid loose - that would possibly be a little more successful lol