My name is Sandy Toomer and I was a Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilot/mechanic serving in Shell, Ecuador from 1995 until May, 2002. This is taken from a journal I kept while living there. Currently I live and work in Auburn, Alabama with my wonderful wife of thirty years, Trish. This story is timeless and hope it inspires and encourages you. This story was also used by AOPA magazine in an article they did on Mission Aviation. Enjoy.
What is a typical day? We have a saying that “Change is subject to plan.” No two days are alike here with constant changes in needs and weather, so the number one rule here as a pilot is be flexible.
My typical day has me come to the hangar with the rest of the gang at 8 AM for prayer and a rundown of the day’s schedule both in flight and maintenance.
By 8:15 we split up and go to our respective corners of the hangar to preflight our aircraft, check loads with the cargo handlers then calculate our fuel need and give the requests to the fuelers. Up to this point the day is going as planned.
But wait…it just began to rain. Rain is a constant companion here where we receive more than 22 feet of it annually. That’s right 22 feet! But then, this is the rainforest.
We have another saying, this one regarding the rain, “Starts before 7, over by 11. Starts after 8, it’ll keep on ’till late.” So I guess I can plan on a rainy day of flying if we even get off. As I watch the deluge splatter the tarmac, our flight coordinator, Tomás, trots up to me.
“Capitán there’s a snake bite patient in Molino. As soon as the weather breaks we’ll send you out. It’s a small boy…he was bitten in the face…yesterday.”
By 10 AM the rain slows, the reports out in the jungle are improving and I decide it’s worth a try to get the boy out. I depart within fifteen minutes for the thirty minute flight out to Molino, a Quichua village.
After landing on the gooey surface I can see it is bad. His head has swollen to the size of a soccer ball and his breathing is labored as his mouth and likely throat are closing off. I customarily shake hands with as many people as I can then load the boy and his mom on board my 206 for the flight back to Shell. A soon as I land in Shell, the boy will be sent by ambulance to the HCJB Hospital Vozandes, five minutes from the MAF hangar.
As soon as I get back I find that my original schedule has been shot to pieces due the spotty rain throughout the jungle. We’ll do what we can today and make up for it tomorrow…if it doesn’t rain…as much.
On this flight I leave Shell to the southwest where some missionaries are working to translate the Old Testament into the Shuar language. My mission is to pick up five Shuar Indians in three villages and and get them back to Makuma before the rain starts up again.
By 2 PM I finish up and I’m ready to leave Makuma for another five landings and take-offs to pick up more medical emergencies and run them over to a jungle hospital operated by the Ecuadorian government, in Taisha.
By 5 PM, I depart Taisha still with one last stop. Go by San Carlos and pick up a carpenter and his crew and tools. They have been building a new school building in the village. From San Carlos we’ll head back to Shell.
Ahh….but wait. The rain. A new wave has formed up north of Shell and is plying it’s way south.
As I get closer to Shell it indeed looks dark, very dark, dreary and gray. The approach controller is still calling the visibility better than 10 kilometers (VFR here) however with rain to the north of the airport, moving closer.
Switching gears, I pull out the instrument approach plate and give it the once over like a hundred times before. The primary approach we use into Shell is a VOR/DME Arc beginning 8 kilometers out. However we also have another straight-in VOR/DME approach and of course what would life be without one of those wonderful NDB
approaches, the epitome of “non-precision”.
Once I’m on the radial, I strain through the rain and haze then finally see runway three-zero ahead and call “Runway in sight”. Within three minutes I taxi up to the large Shell hangar just as the bottom drops out.
It’s nearly 6 PM. After twelve landings, 3.5 hours of Tach-time, forty minutes of actual instrument conditions and an approach to minimums my day is done. Hey, and it’s just Monday!