Fighting the Wind

035155-Lesotho-PP-2010Q4ACircling the remote mountain airstrip I see both windsocks standing straight out, indicating lots of wind. My onboard GPS is talking to me and I don’t like what it says. Around 20 knots crosswind, I calculate. My heart is thumping and my palms are sweating. My hopes for landing are not high.

The day’s scheduled flights are canceled on account of strong winds. We leave medical emergency flight requests open on a case-by-case basis. A request for a teenage girl in need of a blood transfusion comes in around noon. At her particular airstrip we are able to take a lot of wind, so it’s an acceptable risk.

Trying to line my Cessna 206 up on final, it looks like I will exceed that acceptable risk. If I don’t land, I fly home and other arrangements will have to be made for the patient. I cannot let that compromise safety, however. The left rudder pedal is slammed to the floor; the airplane is at its maximum control input. If I can keep the airplane flying straight down the runway, I can land. And if not, I’ll need to return home, without the patient.

I’m barely keeping the airplane straight, definitely at my maximum personal limitations, and chuckle as decision time rapidly approaches. “This isn’t going to work,” I think out loud. But as if on queue, the airplane locks itself straight with the runway and on centerline. I pull the power, expecting to reject the landing at any moment, but trying to give the landing every opportunity. I touchdown firmly and apply heavy braking. I am down and safe on the ground!

My passenger/patient is not doing well. I tell her it will be a very bumpy ride but that she is less than an hour from the hospital. She seems too sick to understand, or care. Getting airborne again, I radio ahead for a wind report. My heart drops with the reply: it will be another landing, right to maximums. By God’s grace, I’m able to land again safely, and the girl makes it to the hospital.

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