THE FLYING SAMARITANS
Pilots who own airplanes or fly rentals need a write off. The Flying Samaritan humanitarian trips provided me an IRS deduction. In addition, the flying was exciting and somewhat dangerous. The Mexico trips were a little like combat operations. Below is a typical team. The aircraft is a Cessna 210. From left to right are Mofack as Pilot, Doctor, Dentist, Nurse, Translator, and Pharmacist.
The Flying Samaritans of Orange County, CA conducted medical clinics 500 or more miles into Mexico to provide medical and dental attention to poor Mexicans. As a Flying Sam pilot for eight years, I flew my Cessna Skylane or a rental Cessna 210 on weekend trips to El Arco, Baja California and similar villages, operating out of dirt landing strips, dry lake beds, roads and beaches. Below is Gonzaga Bay with Alfonsina village and beach landing strip at 12 O'clock.
The villagers at El Arco gave us a two room adobe shack for treating patients. We built a steel enclosure pharmacy inside to store medical supplies and drugs. The locals also built us a single hole outhouse. The village had no potable or running water, nor was there any electricity. We had a portable electric generator for the doctors to perform medical tasks and an air compressor for the drilling by dentists.
The membership met after each clinic to debrief and plan for the next trip. During one debriefing a nurse requested that birth control pills be given to the women of the villages. I argued against it because of the religious aspect and the policies of the Mexican Government. I refused to carry birth control drugs in my plane. Another pilot quickly volunteered and the proposal passed. I was scheduled to carry a doctor, a dentist and a nurse to the next clinic. The pilot of the second aircraft, a Cessna 206, carried five more volunteers with medical supplies and a huge amount of birth control pills.
The two planes left John Wayne Airport early Saturday and landed at Mexicali to clear customs, immigration, refueling and to file flight plans. It always took about ten dollars for grease. Two bucks for each step in the process. Flying in Mexico was at least 50 years behind most of the world. No flight following, no positive control and strictly VFR.
We departed Mexicali and encountered high winds out of the Northeast that shortened our time in route. The 206 arrived overhead El Arco a few minutes ahead of me and called, "Sam One overhead El Arco...turning downwind to land to the West." I thought of our high tail winds and keyed the mike, "Sam One check your landing direction. We had high winds out of the Northeast coming down." Sam One sounded a bit peeved, "The wind is out of the West and we are landing to the West!" I was persistent, "Better check the winds again, Sam One." Moments later he said, "Sam One is turning final for landing to the West."
I arrived overhead, rocked the right wing 90 degrees down and watched Sam One cross the East end of the dirt strip. He was traveling at a high ground speed and used over half of the 1700 foot strip before touching down. The main wheels hit and a cloud of dust rose and followed the plane. The wind must have been 25 knots. I knew he was in deep trouble. Sam One attempted to abort the landing by going to full throttle. He had raised the flaps at touchdown and was now trying to pull the stalled plane into the air. From our position 700 feet overhead, the plane appeared to tap dance through several mesquite bushes, two saguaro cacti and then hop-skip over a huge boulder before settling into a small valley. Slowly, the plane staggered upward heading ninety degrees to the right of the attempted landing direction.
I let about three minutes elapse before transmitting, "Sam One, what are your intentions?" He said, "I am going to make a 270 degree left turn and land into the wind!" I worried about possible airframe damage from bouncing across the desert. "Maybe you should divert to Guerrero Negro and land on the blacktop strip there," I suggested. "If you damaged your landing gear it would be dangerous to land in the dirt." Sam One again asserted his prerogative by saying, "My plane is okay and I am landing at El Arco."
I landed my plane to the East and taxied clear. We quickly shut down, debarked and waited at the end of the strip for Sam One to land. His approach and flare appeared normal. The main wheels touched down and soon thereafter the nose wheel was lowered onto the dirt surface. The front wheel snapped off at the bottom of the nose strut and the pointed strut dug into the dirt. The forward motion of the plane went from 80 MPH to near zero. The plane flipped over forward into an inverted position and skidded backwards toward us. I ran to my plane, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and all of us raced to the crash. We ran the quarter mile in a couple of minutes. The six occupants were still upside down in their seats. We wrenched the doors open and watched hundreds of birth control pill cards spill onto the ground. We unlatched the seat belts and pulled the people from the plane. Although shaken, all the passengers escaped serious injury.
I looked at the wrecked airplane and the thousands of birth control pills scattered around the outside of the plane and inside the cabin. I raised my eyes skyward and I said aloud for all to hear, "Hey God! You play pretty rough!" Someone murmured, "Amen."
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