“Please don’t leave me here! I have nothing here, and I know nobody here! Can you fly me back to Guayaramerin tomorrow? How much do I owe you for the flight?”, the woman sobbed. We were on the general aviation platform at the international airport in Santa Cruz. They were loading the body of her son into an ambulance. He had died as the sun was setting over the Andes Mountains half an hour before we landed.
I told her that I could fly her the next day and that she did not need to worry about money because we had enough money to cover the cost of the fuel for the flight. They had spent all the money they had, and racked up a debt trying to save their son. The last thing they needed was somebody else telling them that they had to pay more money. We want to thank everyone who has been supporting us and made it possible for us to help people. I had not written about this for a while because I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Helen send out an email called “Sad Medivac”, but now I’m going to tell you as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.”
The day started with a trip to the market at five in the morning to buy food. While at the market Herman told me there was a medical flight and asked if I could make the flight. On the way home there were people protesting and blockading the roads. Then the flight was 440 nautical miles long with a quick stop in Trinidad to drop Herman off where the T182 was. I made it to Guayaramerin about 3 in the afternoon.
When I landed the ambulance was there waiting at the airport. I parked the plane and told the doctors to wait a few minutes while I filed a flight plan back to Santa Cruz. Then I went back and fueled the plane, added some oil to the engines, and did a walk around. Then we got in the plane. When they took the boy out of the ambulance they forgot his IV hanging in the ambulance and ripped the needle out if his arm. The boy was conscious and talking when we got in the plane. He was asking for his brother and his father. There was only room in the pane for the boy, the doctor taking care of the boy, and his mother.
By the time we got in the plane and started the engine the control tower told me that it was too late in the afternoon to head to the domestic airport in Santa Cruz. They told me I would have land at the international airport. I taxied out the runway and took off. Then once I had the plane in a steady climb on course I had some time to think. There had been many distractions at the airport; the doctors had been asking questions and I now could not remember if I had put the engine oil dipstick back in the engine or if I had forgotten it sitting on top of the engine cowling while I added oil to the engine.
At that moment as the plane climbed over unbroken jungle the stress level rose really high. Turning back possibly could mean the death of the boy because of delays. However, continuing with the engine possibly losing oil out of the engine could mean the death of all in the plane. Some times in this sinful world we are faced with situations where there is no good answer, all the options are bad, you have to pick the best option.
I had one last resource to check before I had a bad situation. If I had forgotten the dipstick on the cowling then it would have fallen on the ground where the plane had been parked when I started the engine. So I called the control tower and asked them to go check the ramp for the dipstick where I had parked. They told me there was no dipstick on the ramp. The stress level dropped, I had put the dipstick back in the engine.
Halfway through the flight back to Santa Cruz I contacted Trinidad and gave them my estimated time of arrival in Santa Cruz and told them that I would need an ambulance to meet the plane at the airport. At this point the boy’s condition had gone downhill. He was no longer conscious and the doctor had him on oxygen. At that point I told the doctor that we were 20 minutes from Trinidad and 1 hour 20 minutes from Santa Cruz. He told me to continue to Santa Cruz.
Half an hour from Santa Cruz the boy died. The doctor tried to help him but could not. The boy died at about sundown. Here they only allow instrument flights at night. As the boy was dying beside me I had to concentrate and prepare for an instrument approach in case I had to fly an instrument approach. However, the weather was good and an instrument approach was not needed. When we were about 70 miles out I contacted Santa Cruz control I advised them that I needed an ambulance to meet the plane at the airport. So when we were handed over to the control tower they cleared me direct to the downwind leg of a visual approach and sent an airline jet approaching the airport out on a DME arc.
After landing, parking, unloading, and securing the plane the experience was only half over. There was the return flight the next day. That is another story in its self to be continued next time, when I will tell, “the rest of the story.”