Into the 'Heart of Darkness'

Into the 'Heart of Darkness'

On the 12th May 1948 Stuart King and Jack Hemmings embarked on what was to be the last phase of their survey by air into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 At Leopoldville (Kinshasa), the Congo Protestant Council gave us a very encouraging welcome, unanimously requesting further MAF surveys of their areas. During our ten days in the city we visited various government departments. The Belgian director of Civil Aviation was courteous, but reminded us that the Congo was a large country, still very young in its development. Warning us not to expect too much, he gave us a map showing all the landing grounds, with emergency landing places too.

(Excerpt taken from the book Hope Has Wings, by Stuart King. Photo credit: MAF Archive.)  

Returning eastward we flew up the Congo river, the longest in Africa after the Nile. From Leopoldville it curves in an enormous arc across the whole country, draining thousands of square miles of equatorial lowland. We visited four mission stations along its course and dropped a bag of mail to a fifth.

When we occasionally left the line of the river to take a more direct line to our next destination, we found that the continuous carpet of dense, tangled trees and creepers beneath us offered no navigational pinpoints at all.

In the footsteps of Henry Morton Stanley 

Nearing Irumu, on the north eastern border of Congo, the seemingly unending forests abruptly gave way to open grassland. We almost gasped. The change was dramatic. This was where Stanley, after three terrible years of trekking through jungle from the west coast to find Livingstone, had at last come out into open country. We could understand why he sat down and wept.

During the third phase of our survey we went to French Equatorial Africa, flying first to Bangassou where every European in the town came out to give us a terrific welcome.

'We listened as one elderly missionary couple just talked and talked and talked. It had been so long since they had someone they could speak to in their own language.'

Encouraging the faithful

From there we flew eastwards along the southern edge of the country to some of the loneliest mission stations we had seen. The area was called in French Le coin perdu – ‘the lost corner’. We listened as one elderly missionary couple just sat and talked and talked and talked. It had been so long since they had someone they could speak to in their own language.

They were incredibly grateful that I was able to repair their electrical generators. During our surveys we twice flew south from Irumu past the steep sides of the Ruwenzori mountains. The first time the 16,000-foot peaks were heavily shrouded in forbidding clouds.

Biblical scenes

They looked as awesome to us as Mount Sinai must have appeared to the children of Israel when Moses went up to meet with God on the summit. We carefully skirted the precipitous slopes, keeping in the clear under the heavy cloud base.

By then we were learning that dangerous tropical storms could rapidly spring out of the sky apparently from nowhere. Dark, brooding walls of cloud could build up quickly to heights of 20,000 feet, hemming us in. Before we knew it, we could be totally encircled and trapped, sometimes with no way out and nothing but thick forest or steep hills below. That’s why we adopted the saying within MAF: ‘For every one look forward, take two looks back.’ We had to make sure we always had a way out.

'That’s why we adopted the saying within MAF: ‘For every one look forward, take two looks back.’