Friday, October 11, 2019


Have you thought about the repercussion of a decision you have made and the cascade of events that may result from that decision? I've spent a lot of time over the past week pondering this concept as a result of a code one flight I made over the weekend.  

This past weekend was my first "on call." The on call pilot is required to stay near home and be ready to drop everything and go to the airport should a code one be called in. A code one is our term for an emergency medical evacuation flight. If the patient is not immediately given medical care, life is endangered. These flights are very rewarding since they often are life-saving, but also leave us little margin for error and require concentration and good execution by the pilot. Balance is key. As pilots, we are responsible to put safety first, and rushing is always a danger to safety. On the other hand, on a code one, we do all that we can to execute our piloting duties speedily to minimize the time from when we receive the call to the time when we help load the patient onto an ambulance. 
MAF airplanes ready for departure

Last weekend was a holiday weekend in Lesotho. Friday was Independence Day, so I was on call Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday had no calls, but I went into the hangar and performed a preflight inspection on the plane so it would be ready to dispatch in case there was a code one. On Saturday morning, my phone rang before 7 am. A premature baby was in trouble and needed and evacuation from a mountain health clinic to a district hospital. The flight went very well and I was home in a few hours. That afternoon, I had another call. This time, a man had a gunshot wound to the neck and needed to go from one of the district hospitals to the main hospital in Maseru. Again, the flight was uneventful and the outcome was successful. By 4 pm, I had reached "cuttoff time," the time when there is not enough time to complete a flight and return before sunset. We cannot fly at night because there is only one runway here in Lesotho with functioning lights, and because we are not allowed by regulation to fly at night if we have not done so recently. To fly at night would be both illegal and dangerous.

Sunday dawned clear and calm. All morning I waited for a call. Our usual church was too far away for me to dispatch quickly, so we attended a different church closer to the airport. By 2 pm I was beginning to relax - there probably would be no calls today. This was great because I had planned to have a meeting with a young Basotho lady whom I'm mentoring toward an aviation career that afternoon. Ausi Tebello would be arriving at our house around 3. Then it happened; at 3:07, my phone rang. There was a code one from one of our furthest airstrips, the site of a district hospital about 85 nautical miles away. I was told it was a premature baby. Using a spreadsheet developed by one of our pilots that factors in drive time to the airport, preparation time, flight time, loading time, etc., I determined that I had about 1/2 hour of extra time to complete the flight before sunset at 6:12 pm. The forecasted winds were manageable and though there were scattered cumulous clouds, they are common in the afternoon and nothing to worry about. It was a go! As I drove out my driveway, I met Ausi Tebello arriving. I asked her if she wanted to come along on the code 1. She was elated at the opportunity to go and experience aviation. Our meeting could happen another day. 
Someone loves flying!

By 4 pm we were airborne. I texted my flight follower that I was estimating arriving at the airstrip at the district hospital at 4:37. Our flight follower is a crucial component of the safety system at MAF. He or she sits in the radio room monitoring our progress via a GPS tracking system that is installed in each airplane. The flight follower performs a variety of tasks that reduce the workload of the pilot. For example, if we need a weather check, he or she will call our contacts at various airfields to find out winds and cloud conditions. The flight follower also communicates with the medical personnel bringing the patient to coordinate arrival times, etc. Most importantly, though, the flight follower is ready to notify key personnel and initiate search and rescue for us should we should have an inflight emergency. It is always a comfort to know we are being watched and cared for (by a human also) as we fly over the rugged mountains of Lesotho.  

Upon landing, I taxiied the airplane to the parking area where the patient was waiting. I saw a young person on a stretcher. As I prepared to transfer the person, whom I assumed to be a young mother, to the stretcher, I asked the age and was told "14." Then I asked where the baby was. After a moment of confusion, I was told that there was no baby. The young person on the stretcher was a young boy and there was never a premature baby. Such miscommunications are common. There was no problem, though, since I had brought the airplane stretcher. The airplane stretcher is a collapsible aluminum frame that allows us to strap the patient down and fasten the stretcher frame to the airplane floor so that the patient will not be bounced around if we hit turbulence. The boy was weak, intubated and semi-conscious. The attending medical personnel said they did not know what is wrong with him. I asked if he had TB and they said he did not (we wear masks for our protection if a passenger has TB). I loaded the boy on the stretcher and seated the attending nurse as well as the boy's grandmother.  A quick check of the weight and balance of the airplane confirmed that we were within limits.
Airplane Stretcher

Before departing I check my phone for messages. The flight follower has sent me several disturbing photos of a large gathering storm cell (thunderstorm) over the airport and explained "It's gusty and turbulent here" and "the wind sock is also full" (which means wind is at least 15 kts). The weather at base had deteriorated rapidly after my departure. It is time for a decision. I tell my flight follower that I am going to try. Perhaps the storm will dissipate or move away before I arrive. A lot can happen on a 45 minute flight, since most thunderstorms only exist for an hour or so. Besides, I have only about 1 hour and 15 minutes to suset. It is time to move. A few minutes after takeoff, our Chief Pilot, Bryan texts me with "are you flying? There's a big thundershower over Maseru now." He tells me there is lightning too. I peer into the distance trying to make out the storm that is more than 50 miles ahead. But the setting sun is in my eyes and I can't see much through the haze. Now my team is going into full support mode; Bryan and another pilot discuss options, check radar and tell me they think I can get through between rain cells. I'm flying the airplane and texting via WhatsApp with Bryan. Suggestions on where to go if I can't get through? We decide that option one is to go back to the district hospital because the patient will get best care there. In the back of my mind I know that conditions were going downhill there too, so I note the airstrips I pass along the route. Semenanyane and Katse Dam, both have airstrips that I can land on. The window of daylight is closing and I need to open as many options as I can. If I can't get through to base at Maseru, I have only a few minutes to spare for the return. I am going to the edge of our safety margins. 
Things look OK ahead - for now

My primary goal is to stay within those margins. Meanwhile I forge ahead. Now I see the storm. The sun is lower now and disappears behind the huge storm.  At least I can see what I'm heading into. The light is erie. It's 5:35 pm. Thirty-seven minutes to sunset. I am only 25 miles out and I receive a message from Bryan that there is light rain in Maseru but that the main storm seems to have passed to the north. I see a path through below the storm to one of our main landmarks that's only a few miles from our base! I point the airplane at the light that is past the darkness of the storm. At the same time I note a very clear area to my right and set the heading bug on the airplane to that area in case I need to turn away from the storm. I don't want to have a moment of confusion if I need to turn back. It's smooth sailing and we begin to descend about 20 miles from the airport. " We're going to make it," I say to Tebello who is seated next to me. Seconds later we encounter serious turbulence. The airplane is being tossed like a leaf. At almost the same time I see a lighting strike dead ahead, and within a few seconds left and right of where I'm pointed. There's no way forward that is safe. I bank the airplane hard toward the heading I had chosen and begin to climb, back toward the mountains I had just left. It is 5:43 pm. I have 29 minutes to get the airplane on the ground before sunset. 
The storm that made us turn around

I set the GPS for return to the airport at the district hospital and get on course. Having escaped the storm area, the turbulence is gone. I text Bryan and my flight follower to let them know I have turned back. The GPS estimates my arrival to be 6:08. I have four minutes to spare! As long as the weather is good at the district hospital airport. Has the door closed there too? I can always land at Katse or Semenenyane, but these are not ideal for the patient. Bryan texts me to assure me I'm doing a good job and remind me that the priority is to get on the ground. I begin my descent toward the district hospital. We pass through some light rain but the airport is clearly visible in the distance. I text the flight follower to call for the ambulance to pick up our patient. As I enter the airport pattern and prepare for landing, I see lightning strike a few miles away. After landing I send my "on the ground call" to my flight follower at 6:11 pm. My team and I breathe a sigh of relief and say prayers of thanksgiving. 

The patient is loaded into the ambulance and I tie the airplane down. With this stormy weather I have to be sure it won't be damaged. I check the fuel and find that there is just enough to return to Maseru in the morning and allow our required reserve fuel. My team has already started planning for how to get us back. The nurse, the patient, his grandmother, Tebello and I all ride in the ambulance to the hospital. I apologize to the grandmother and the nurse that I could not get through. We make a plan with the ambulance driver to try again at first light, 5:45 am. I text Karen to update her and find out that she has been following along on the computer, which allowed her to see all the messages going to and from my phone. The kids want to hear a voice message from me to know I'm ok. Karen tells me that all the wives on the MAF staff have reached out to her to make sure she's ok. I love our team! I send Bryan and the others a text thanking them for their help.

The nurse calls for a bed and breakfast for us and the ambulance takes us there. I am glad that my flight bag includes a few overnight items. Tebello has had quite an adventure and as we eat dinner we talk about the experience. I ask if she still wants to be a pilot after this. She is energized and excited. She tells me the only time she was afraid was when I made the turn back in turbulence. We discuss the crew resource management and safety factors that played into the decisions that were made. These are valuable lessons that I wish I had known better in my early piloting. After dinner, I am pretty tired and get to bed early. I have a early start to make in the morning.  
A nice comfortable room

It's 4:45 am on Monday. I have arranged to pay the owner of the bed and breakfast at 5:15 and the ambulance is coming to pick us up at 5:20. We ride the ambulance to the airport, and I jump off there to go get the airplane ready. The gate is locked, so we need to figure that out. Meanwhile, I vault over the gate, do my preflight checks and prepare the stretcher. The ambulance returns from the hospital and waits at the gate. I decide to try to save time by putting the patient on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance. He looks weaker this morning but he has enough strength to push my hand away and mutter protest as I strap him to the stretcher. No one can seem to find the person with the key to the gate. Time is ticking. I get the airplane toolkit and remove the lock. The ambulance drives up to the airplane while I trot back with the toolkit. 
Ready to go at dawn

As I open the door of the airplane and return to the ambulance for the stretcher, the nurse tells me the patient's heart has stopped! I know that he was well enough to push me away when I put him on the stretcher scarcely five minutes before. Incredulous, I ask if they had tried CPR. No, they say, we don't have a CPR mask. I shout, "we have one in the plane, start chest compressions NOW," and sprint to the plane. It's not there. I run back and start chest compressions. The nurse and I trade off with chest compressions while I rack my brain for a solution to the respiration. I remember my CPR training and we get the patient on the ground outside the ambulance for more effective compressions. The ambulance driver opens a compartment on the ambulance and starts looking in it. I find a respirator bag and toss it to the nurse. We continue CPR together for several minutes. I ask if there is an AED on the ambulance but there is not. I suggest we take the patient back to the hospital where they will have an AED. I ask Tebello to stay with the airplane since I haven't had time to secure it. On the drive we continue CPR, but there are no results. I hope that we are keeping his brain oxygenated until we arrive for the AED at the hospital. 

We put the patient on a gurney and wheel him to the OR. It's locked and takes a few minutes to find a key. I'm the only one doing CPR now as no one really has any hope. But I think, "what if this was my kid?" and continue. I help the nurses put him on the table and I ask "where's the AED?" "We don't have one." They put a monitor on the boy and pronounce him dead. I'm so angry. Angry that this hospital is so poorly equipped and at the apathy surrounding the situation. Sweaty and tired from the CPR, I walk out of the hospital in stunned silence. At the ambulance is the boy's grandmother. I tell her in Sesotho as best I can that we tried and that I'm sorry. What can I say? I have no words. It is a somber ride back to the airport. 
Back at the airport - reflecting on a difficult morning

Now I begin to second guess myself and my decisions. What if I had tried a little more to push through the night before? What if I had not stressed the patient with a flight the night before? What if I had tried to wait out the storm over Maseru in hopes of landing there before dark, instead of turning back? The decisions I made had been part of this boy's life ending. I have been reflecting on these questions for a while. I have concluded that that I did everything right. I tried my best. I did succeed in my mission to fly safely. I know that 4 people and me dead because I decided to fly and land after dark or fly into a thunderstorm would be even worse than the outcome than we had. Much worse. I am at peace with that. I am glad that in the week following this incident, the MAF team and I have flown more than a dozen missions that supported the health of people in Lesotho (including numerous code 1s), missions that would not have happened if I had made a decision Sunday night that led to an accident. Next time, given the same situation, I would do the same. I would have to.  

I have also been reflecting on deeper questions. Why would God allow a boy like this to die when he has hardly yet lived? What about his salvation? I don't have answers to these and I may not ever have them. But I do have faith. Faith is not for when its easy. It's for when it's not easy. 

Please pray for the people of Lesotho. Pray that the love of Jesus would fill the hearts of leaders and of their people so that they would live by the two great commandments to love God with all your heart and to love others as yourself. When this happens, people's lives are transformed, and when people are transformed, a nation is transformed. It can happen. Pray that God moves in this nation. 
Pray for the Mountain Kingdom

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Lesotho Driving

I reverse our vehicle out of the driveway. Since I can't hear any sirens, I feel fairly certain that the Prime Minister's high speed motorcade will not T-Bone me on the way to his residence down the street. As I pull into the left lane, I think "driver in the middle" of my right-hand drive vehicle. While accelerating down the road, I see a cow basking on the centerline. I carefully pull around the cow as several other cattle and the attending shepherd disinterestedly watch.
Oh Look, a cow in the road!
A few turns later, I have to slow down for a humped zebra. Fortunately, it's daytime so it's easy to see and my windscreen is clean. At night on unfamiliar roads, faded paint and a humped zebra have conspired together to give us a real jolt! 

No, it's not a camel crossed with a zebra
As I turn onto the main road, I narrowly miss a collision with a four-plus-one whose driver is not using his indicator. Continuing downtown, I come to the first robot and see that only the yellow is working. Ho Joalo, as they say. Then I see that a dump truck is crossing traffic. Now it doesn't matter what the robot says; size governs right of way. I slow to allow him to pass. Continuing toward my destination, I pull into the turn lane next to a twisted and broken light post and await an opening to turn across oncoming traffic. A four plus one behind me hoots, then pulls around and turns across the turn lane in the opposite direction as the faded arrow in the turn lane. Another spots a fare and reverses toward me, stopping just before I'm hit. 
On the left, A four plus one - they cause a lot of accidents as they vie for fares, but they are the main mode of transportation for thousands of people here. On the right, a taxibus.
There seems to be a slowdown ahead. A few minutes later I come upon the problem: a broken down dump truck is having major engine work done in the middle of the lane and people going around have to wait for oncoming traffic. Everyone is calm about it and the drivers automatically fall into a routine of letting a few cars through in each direction in turn, signaling one another by flashing their headlights. After passing the impromptu garage, I begin to accelerate but ahead of me I see the dreaded "L" of a learner, who are drivers who are under instruction and seem to never exceed 15 mph. After overtaking him, I decide to drive approximately the speed limit. I glance in my righthand mirror and see the red X plate of a government bakkie, which is overtaking at nearly twice the posted speed signs. In the distance is a woman with a baby waiting to cross the street. I begin the slow but then remember that here, cars (in order of size) have the right of way and that due to other vehicles, it is actually more dangerous to the pedestrians if I stop to allow them to cross. 
It's pretty common to see horses or donkeys even on main streets
I am now at the main traffic circle. Two lanes, sometimes three, sometimes a dance, sometimes a battle, as drivers vie for the circle's 5 entries and exits. Now another slowdown. A police checkpoint! I ready my license to display for the officer. I greet him in my best Sesotho, confident that my vehicle will pass any inspection they have. He smiles at my efforts, then quickly looks at my data dot and hands my license to me, waving me on. I pass several detained four plus ones with the police questioning their drivers. Most of the time they are not being detained for traffic violations. They are being detained for improper papers, licensing or having a taillight out. One of the drivers is doing pushups on the sidewalk at the direction of the policeman. He doesn't have enough money for the fine. 

This is a well-traveled road. Most roads that are not paved in Lesotho look like this. Some are even rougher
Reaching the turnoff to our church, I slow to a crawl as I leave the paved road and enter the unpaved paths that serve as roads for most of Lesotho.  I carefully maneuver around a bathtub-sized hole and then climb over a section of cantaloupe-size rocks, grateful for my high-clearance vehicle. We have arrived safe and sound; we can be thankful for God's providential protection. And we didn't even need to go to a panel beater!

Bodywork, anyone? Just beat it into submission
This story of course was a dramatization of many unusual driving experiences packed into one trip, but all of them have happened to us at one point.  Most of them happen in any week's driving. At first, this driving experience was very stressful for both of us. But with time, we have become used to it, and mostly at peace with it. At first I raged against the lack of rules and enforcement, but when I accepted that the drivers here operate on a different set of rules, I began to adapt. Some days I still get upset about the person who runs out of petrol and parks his disabled vehicle in the middle of the lane, causing a traffic jam. But then I remind myself that efficient use of time is not an important value here, and that he is probably not an inconsiderate person - he has just not been educated on how to pull over. It is important in those moments to remember that we are not here to bring the Autobahn. We are here to share the love and life of Jesus with people who live in deep need of it. Perhaps the road conditions will not improve, but if they do it will be because of the life of Jesus flowing from the drivers who put others before self as He did. In the meantime, whether we are at work or just driving to work, we are here to follow in His footsteps. 
We are blessed to have this vehicle. It has high clearance for taking the unpaved roads in Lesotho. Its size and the bull bar on the front forces the four plus one drivers to give us some space and respect

Reverse - Back up
Humped Zebra (Humped Zebra Crossing) - Speed bump / crosswalk
Robot - Traffic Light
Four-Plus-One - A taxicab, usually a compact car such as a Corolla or Honda Fit that theoretically fits four plus a driver (often has more people in it)
Indicator - Turn Signal
Ho Joalo - That's how it is.
Hoot / Hooter - To honk the car's horn, the car's horn
Garage - Mechanic shop, also a petrol ("gas") station
Overtake - Pass
Bakkie - Pickup truck
Data Dot - A paper that is displayed on your windscreen in addition to your license plate to show you've paid the registration fees for the year (similar to tabs on US license plates)
Windscreen  - windshield
Panel Beater - Body Shop

Petrol - Gasoline ("gas" is propane)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Day in The Life

Monday, October 15, 5:45 am. My alarm rings. As I rejoin the conscious world, I realize that I had been dreaming about the airport windsock winch attachment project which has been consuming my working days at the MAF Lesotho hangar for nearly two weeks. Several prototypes had failed but last Friday I had finished another prototype.  Alas, there wasn't enough time in the day to test the unit at the Mejametalana Airport windsock on Friday afternoon, so I had to wonder all weekend if this latest version would also turn to a steel pretzel under the strain of lowering and raising the massive windsock pole. Today will tell!

Heading off to work
As a recently-arrived MAF pilot/mechanic in Lesotho, I spent my first 3 months in Lesotho working (along with Karen) on learning the Sesotho language, while juggling the many details of moving into a new house, buying a vehicle, furnishing the house and starting a new job - all in a new culture. Having acquired a thin grasp of Sesotho, I will spend the next 3 months working at the MAF hangar at Mejametalana Airport as I work toward my checkouts for both flight and maintenance. Maintenance training is up first, but since there is only one maintenance trainer who is also a pilot and manager, some days I have been assigned project work. Our pilots have been risking their lives for years lowering the huge windsock poles at our remote airstrips when the windsocks have been destroyed by the wind. I have been assigned the project of reducing the complexity and danger of lowering these poles. I love problem solving and increasing efficiency, so this project is right up my alley. While I'm working my 8-5 job, Karen will juggle her role as a mom with coordinating a class on Sesotho with a local language helper. Several other missionary women in Maseru join several times a week to sharpen their Sesotho. It is important to our family to be able to talk to people here in their heart language.   

6:15 AM I have finished making coffee and I sit down to listen to Daily Audio Bible.  I take a few sips of coffee and start to listen to the narrator read from one of the Gospels.  Then I hear Tim calling: "mommy, daddy?" So that Karen can get a few extra minutes of sleep, I go and get him. He starts saying "phone, cars, tractors." It seems he is addicted to daddy's phone because daddy shows him videos of cars and tractors. He is obsessed with anything with wheels. Where does he get it? Of course I give in and show him a few videos on YouTube. He tries to sing along to the ABC Cars video.  Racked with guilt at the destruction of his mental development caused by exposure to videos, I put away the phone and read him a book.  

Grace Reading to Tim

6:45 am I am almost finished with the premade breakfast Karen prepeares for me in advance each week (chicken sausage and homemade bagel).  Meanwhile, Karen is getting Grace out of bed so she can be ready to go to school at 7:30. There is no bus service so Karen will be driving her. Grace has just finished reading her 10th book and will have her name on a leaf of the "reading tree" that is posted in her Kindergarten class at the American International School of Lesotho. Today is not a PE day so she's excited to go. 

7:15 am I arrive at the hangar not too sweaty; I rode the 2.5 miles on my bike slowly enough to stay cool. Since I am stoked about my windsock project, I begin to gather the equipment so a helper and I can take it out to try it.  First, though, we have MAF hangar prayer as we do each day. The whole staff gathers as we pray for the day. Pilot Bryan is missing; he has departed already on a scheduled flight to drop off a patient at one place and then pick up several people at two other airstrips.  Another person who is out today is our flight follower. Since I was recently trained to do this, I volunteer to fill this role. The flight follower is an important safety feature of an MAF flight program. Before and after every takeoff and landing and while enroute, the pilot checks in with the flight follower to tell about destination, passengers, route and intentions. If an emergency occurs, this information can speed our response exponentially, which could save lives.  If a code one (medical evacuation flight) comes in, the flight follower informs the pilot and coordinates the response. In addition, the flight follower reduces the workload of the pilot by coordinating things like passenger arrivals and ambulances.

8:04 am I receive a picture message (hey it's the 21st century even here) from Pilot Bryan that shows the airstrip at his first destination. Or where the airstrip would be if it were not
Uh oh, can't land here
completely obscured by ground fog.  The next message is that he was going to his next destination. I write down the information on the flight following log. I receive the message that he's on the ground at his alternate airport. Then he texts me and asks me to use our dispatch software to see if he will need more fuel if he flies on and picks up another passenger while waiting for the weather to clear at his original destination. Bryan and our dispatch agent and I work through several scenarios and decide that due to payload limitations, he has to just wait for the weather to clear at the original destination. We call the clinic at the original destination and find out that the clouds have cleared away. 

8:50 am Bryan informs me he has a problem with the airplane; when he prepared to start the engine he discovered his auxiliary electric fuel pump was not working. I check with our head mechanic as Bryan (who is a mechanic as well as a pilot) begins to troubleshoot the problem. He almost immediately finds the problem; a broken wire needs to be soldered back on. Meanwhile, back at the hangar, the mechanics are working hard to get another airplane out of its maintenance condition so that it can be used to go help Bryan fix his airplane. 

Ah, there's the Problem!

10:30 am Our hangar mechanics suggest that I go out and help Bryan. The second airplane needed some additional adjustments after its return to service flight and they are busy working on that issue. I gather together a set of tools to take with us. This includes a gasoline powered generator to run the soldering iron to solder the wire. I test the generator and iron and double check that we have everything that we could need. The head hangar mechanic and I go over the maintenance manual and discuss the procedure for adjusting the settings after we install the repaired part. I load my tools and lunch into the airplane.  Since I'm going out, Pilot Grant agrees to take over flight following. Right now there's nothing to do but once Bryan's airplane is fixed, he will be following two flights. One of the mechanics buys a deep fried sheep leg from a street vendor and munches it while he works. I take a photo to show to Grace so she can be grossed out.  

12:00 pm The food that was ordered for the passenger and for Bryan has arrived. I begin to wonder if I will have time to test the windsock tool, but the answer from the mechanics working on the second airplane is "we'll be done really soon." Pilot Jason and I wait anxiously. A code one call comes in. The second airplane will take that call when it is ready. The pressure to get things moving mounts. But rushing things in aviation is a recipe for disaster. We purposefully avoid talking to the mechanics; we let them do their jobs and try not to push them. I sneak over to the plane and get my lunch out and eat it. I talk Bryan out of taking a taxi home.  We discuss if I should drive 3 hours to take the repair kit. But then it would be 3 hours back too! The bosses tell us to wait it out and the plane will be ready.

Pilot Jason and a Guy in a T-Shirt
1:30 pm Pilot Jason runs the airplane on the ground and it works fine. We are ready to go! I warm up the lunch for Bryan and his patient passenger. They left at 7. By the time we get there, they will have been waiting about 7 hours! As we take off, Pilot Jason has me check the accuracy of the tachometer, and it's right on. The airplane runs perfectly. In a few minutes we are flying over the rugged mountains of Lesotho. I get to take the controls for a while. It's good to get used to the airplane and study the terrain. Soon I will be flying passengers on these same routes.  

2:30 pm Pilot Jason touches down at the airstrip where Bryan is stranded. We park next to Bryan's plane.  The airstrip attendant and several other Basotho run up and take pictures of the unusual sight of two MAF planes and several pilots together. I greet them in the formal greetings as I unload the equipment and lunches. While Bryan eats and I set up equipment, Jason loads the passenger from Bryan's plane to take her to the original destination that had been fogged in. He will be back in less than an hour to pick up me and the tools.

Pilot (Mechanic) Bryan Fixin it!
Me Fixin it!

3:30 pm Bryan and I finish the repair as Jason's airplane appears overhead. I load the tools into Jason's airplane and Bryan departs just ahead of us to continue his passenger pickups from earlier in the day. Jason and I will be picking up a non emergency medical patient and the code one from earlier. We find out that an additional code one has been called in. It will be a busy afternoon. I text Karen and tell her that we may be in late and that she should come to the airport to pick me up about 6 so we can go on our date night.

4:00 pm We arrive at the first airstrip to pick up the medical patient. He is not at the airstrip when we touch down, so I run down the airstrip to check the windsock pole construction while pilot Jason waits for the patient. I get a few photos for later study and on the way back up the airstrip I exchange greetings with a couple of shepherds. It is more difficult to understand them and more difficult for them to understand me than it is in speaking to our Basotho staff at the MAF hangar. They bua butle (speak slowly) to help me. At an altitude over 7500 ft above sea level, I am gasping a bit as I arrive back at the airplane. The patient is loaded and we are ready to go.

Basotho Shepherd

4:40 pm We arrive at the airstrip at the regional hospital and find a group of perhaps 10 people surrounding two patients in rough shape. One has been a stabbed in the abdomen and the other has a broken leg that appears to be infected. Because of their serious conditions, the regional hospital has elected to send the men to the big hospital in Maseru using our airplane.  The stabbed man is on a pad but there is no stretcher. As happens often, communication was inadequate and we were told that we did not need to bring a stretcher. You have to make do, though. We have a loading conundrum too, with an entirely full airplane. Jason and I work together to remove two seats and stow them in the baggage area. Then Jason and I load the man with the broken leg into a seat, being careful not to put strain on his leg. Next, we load the stab wound victim along with his pad, putting a tarp under him in case he was "leaking" as Jason put it. He is secured with what we affectionately call "the spider," a strap that holds him to the floor should we experience any turbulence. Finally, our medical patient from the first stop was strapped into the remaining seat. 

Pilot Jason Loading Code 1 Patients

5:15 pm After half an hour of loading we are ready to go again! I text Grant, who is still flight following, "2+3, Estimating 1803, 105, Fuel 132 liters."  Which means, we have 2 pilots and 3 passengers, we estimate our arrival in Maseru to be 6:03 pm, flying at 10,500 ft, we have 132 liters of fuel on board. As we fly toward Maseru, Grant is making sure an ambulance is ready. I also text Karen that we are enroute and on time for her to pick me up.

6:05 pm We have arrived Maseru and begin the process of transferring the patients to the waiting ambulance. Next, the airplane is refueled for the flight the following morning and put away in the hangar. I remove my tools. Grant sets aside his flight following role and becomes an aircraft fueler and pusher.

6:15 pm My date finally finishes her fight with rush hour traffic and picks me up. We head for a little hole in the wall café that we have heard about in the industrial area. It is as awesome as we have heard. When we got home, the kids were asleep and the babysitter was on the couch.

What a day. It was a privilege to be part of a great team that works together to make a difference in the lives of Basotho. No one was a hero. No one needed to be because everyone pulled together. We have a team, that includes Basotho, Americans and a South African, that is like-minded in bringing to bear our collective professional skills to achieve the goal of carrying hope and help to isolated and suffering people in the name of Jesus. I am thankful that God has given me the privilege of serving on this team. Our family is overwhelmed at the generosity of our supporters who make it possible for us to serve here in Lesotho. Thank you!

Oh, I suppose you're wondering about the windsock tool? Yes, Grant and I tried it the next day. It worked, and the sound it makes is very satisfying.