Pilot report: an unexpected opening

Pilot report: an unexpected opening

Enroute to South Sudan, MAF pilot Simon Wunderli's had no idea that, within 48 hours, he would open an airstrip that will connect another remote village with the outside world. Simon shares his story

The immigration officer at the Uganda/South Sudan border was not there yet, so AIM regional coordinator Brian de Smidt and I got talking. I learned that although I was taking him to Lohutok, there was actually an old airstrip located at the AIM base Brian was going to visit, which had been rehabilitated last year. I checked my charts and found the airstrip, Ohilang, only about six kilometres from where we were going.

I asked if it would be possible to take a road trip from Lohutok to Ohilang to inspect the runway. Some phone calls were made over sketchy phone lines and satellite phones and we felt pretty sure things were in place to do this journey.

On the way, I did a quick aerial survey of Ohilang and took some pictures before we flew the 4nm to Lohutok where we landed, locked up the plane and then jumped into a 4x4.

I jokingly mentioned how good it is to do these occasional road trips in South Sudan to once again see why we fly. It took us a good 30 minutes to drive the six kilometres, and the rainy season hasn’t even really started yet!

The disused airstrip at Ohilang is surrounded by hills on three sides

We arrived in Ohilang and we measured the strip with the car’s odometer and then walked the strip as well. Nestled at the bottom of mountains in a half-bowl, it was obvious that this was a one-way airstrip. It was overgrown, but not too densely as we’re just coming out of the dry season.

The AIM missionaries on the ground were certainly excited about the prospect of MAF flying into Ohilang and being able to better connect with the outside world!

The drive back to Lohutok was again slow and mostly done to the grinding of the first and second gear. After this very bumpy road trip the onward flight in the bumpy afternoon air of South Sudan seemed surprisingly ‘smooth’.

Having told the missionaries what needed to be done for us to fly to Ohilang, they then did everything within 24 hours.

I landed there the day after and now the strip is officially open, although there are some further recommendations from our side to extend the runway if possible by another 300 meters as it is currently so restricted because of the high ambient temperatures, short runway and tailwind for take-off.

Now MAF can again disturb the sleepy village of Ohilang with some turbine engine noise and excite the local children!

- Simon Wunderli, MAF pilot