From my low altitude I can see nearly every detail of the surface below. Ordinarily, I would be comfortably cruising thousands of feet above Lesotho’s extremely mountainous landscape. But today I’m forced to fly beneath an ominous gray cloud layer, in the middle of thick haze, twisting and turning with the contours of the jagged rocky terrain. In the haze, I’m fighting for each mile, much closer to the ground than I’m used to. My destination still lies 50 miles ahead. Trouble is I can only see five miles in front of me.
It was a hard decision departing on today’s flight. In the front of my mind I always ask the question: “Can I complete this flight safely?” Abiding by country and MAF regulations is essential. Passenger comfort and confidence is also of my top priority. My own energy level, emotional state, and skill are always in the mix too.
There is continuously a risk vs. benefit to consider on any flight. Today, with 300 lbs. of critical medical supplies for a completely depleted stock at a mountain clinic, the benefit is clear. Their resupply will come by air or not at all. However, the marginal weather risk is harder to decipher, especially in a country with almost non-existent aviation weather reporting.
In order to decipher today’s weather better, we sent out a “sniffer” – a pilot who goes out on the first flight of the day to “sniff” the weather and report back if another plane should launch or not. Earlier I received the sniffer’s report and opted to launch, despite my colleague’s hesitance to say yes.
Through the haze I finally spot the last ridge above the airstrip through a slightly dissolving haze. It feels like it’s been hours getting this far, yet only 45 minutes has lapsed. Once on the ground one of the clinicians quizzes me, “Isn’t the weather too bad for flying?”
“It’s very marginal, but flyable,” I assure her, and then proceed to unload the cargo. It only takes only a few minutes to unload, and the clinic is now at least minimally stocked.
Powering up my vacant airplane and launching back into the haze, with a renewed sense of confidence in my successful return, a smile creeps onto my face. Today’s mission is complete.