Indonesian Moon

Part Three.

"I had learned many years ago that a two-arm wave
means someone is in trouble."

      After falling off the step I feathered the prop and Alex got out on the float to take a water sample. The water was as clear and pure as from any spring. I later teased Alex that he could quit flying for a living and start bottling and selling that water. “Alex’s Rinjani Spring Water.”

      The feeling of having been the first person ever to land on this lake and possibly the first person to ever have even been on the water, as there was no evidence of a boat, did not sink in while we floated on the beautiful lake. All I could think of was getting airborne again. As soon as Alex was strapped in I applied full power and started my takeoff run. Although I was getting full power on the torque I was not getting full thrust from the bite of the prop. The thin air was certainly affecting both thrust and lift. I had to use every tiny bit of my floatplane experience to coax my baby up onto the step.
      Before applying full power, I pulled the control column right back with full up elevator deflection. The nose rose agonizingly slowly until it rose no more. At this point I relaxed the pressure on the control column allowing the nose to drop slightly. This helped the prop to “pull” the aircraft onto the step changing the center of buoyancy from the rear of the floats toward the center and allowing the airflow to build up over the wings creating lift. As the buoyancy moved forward I could feel the force of the water starting to push the aircraft onto the step and so I rocked the control slightly ahead to “help” her fulcrum her way into the hydroplaning attitude.
      As soon as she gained the step I pulled back gently on the control column again to search for the “sweet spot,” or the ideal attitude where neither the bows or heals are digging or dragging and the aircraft is riding solely on the smallest section of the V shaped keel. When she was ready to fly, I broke the right and, almost simultaneously, the left float from the lake's surface tension and was airborne. The rest was easy. Alex and I had earned our donuts that day.

      Oddly enough we savored our conquest and did not tell anyone for a couple of days. When I finally ventured to mention to the head office in an “Oh, by the way” conversation, they were ecstatic. I was congratulated with an official fax from the head office thanking me for my effort. “For Travira Air, your landing inside the Rinjani volcano is equivalent to Indonesia landing a Man on the Moon.” They could hardly wait to see the photographs.
      Alex and I looked at each other. We had no photographs. Neither of us had brought a camera. As there were no witnesses how were we to prove that we had actually landed on the lake? We did not exist.
      On a later conversation, the Operations Manager lamented us not having photographs. He smoothed the way for a second flight when he ask, “Do you think there is anyway that you could get some pictures?”
      I said, “Sure, let me work it out.”

      So two days later Alex and I were off again. This time on landing I shut down the turbine and was left with an eerie silence as we ghosted to a stop. Alex and I got out to document our landing for posterity. Alex had come up with the idea that we should shoot each other holding newspapers. He had even brought the original papers from the morning we had done the first landing, as that would be more authentic. Now we could prove that we had actually been there that morning. The irony was that the papers we held carried stories in Indonesian about Bin Ladin and the Al Qaeda shortly after the 9/11 attacks on America. We looked like hostages being held for ransom.
      The morning was so beautiful and calm that this time I did not want to leave. The opaque emerald green water was cool, and the air was crisp and refreshing. The trees turned out to be tall straight pine, looking like something out of Myst or descendants from the Mesozoic Period, which blended in well with the alpine atmosphere. The feeling was that of a summer morning in the Rocky Mountains. Alex said, “I’ve never been to Canada, but I imagine that this is what it is like.”

      I said, “Yes... except for the volcano” towering over the east end of the lake. Silhouetted against the morning sun, I could make out the rising steam from the volcano cone. The steam appeared thin and wispy from the distance, but it was venting nonetheless. In other words, here was evidence that the volcano was still active and threatening. It was hard to believe that something so majestic and beautiful could be so potentially dangerous. In the calm cool of the morning, the tension I felt was not caused by the awareness of imminent death. The feeling was rather one of unfulfilled opportunity, like that of not having said goodbye to a dying father. I would be disappointed if Rinjani erupted one day and I was not there to see it go. I certainly understand how a volcano could come to be worshipped.

      Because this flight was also booked as a training flight I let Alex take over left seat so he could do a series of landings and takeoffs. I already had my fun. On the second takeoff we were flying out the cut toward home when Alex looked down toward the campsite and said, “I think someone is mad at us, they are waving with both arms.”
      I had learned many years ago that a two-arm wave means someone is in trouble. Much to Alex’s amazement I decide to investigate. His reasoning was that if we were in trouble we should avoid the person. My reasoning was that if we were in trouble we should confront and reason with the person, but more likely we would be providing assistance to someone who needs our help. Alex made his first glassy water landing and we stepped taxied toward the shore. When he decided we were getting close to the shore he pulled her off the step, but to both of our amusement the waving person was a tiny little dot on the shoreline. We were still a kilometer away. The clear air and magnitude of the mountains had fooled our senses again.


    We approached the shore and I had Alex shut down the turbine early. We pulled out the aluminum paddles and slowly worked our way toward the rocky shoreline. The bank was gradual making it easy to nose in the aircraft. With no waves or tide to worry about we only had to hitch a rope and leave her floating. The waver turned out to be Jaron Starling from Australia.
      Jaron was a backpacker who had hired some local guides from the village below and set out alone to find this legendary lake. He said it took him three days to get this far when one of his guides came down with pneumonia. The poor guy had been holed up in his tent for several days with no sign of improvement. Jaron said the guy had a fever and could hardly breathe. He certainly did not want to risk forcing him to hike three to four hours back up to the crater rim and then another eight hours back down to the village. Jaron was getting low on supplies and he was concerned about his guide’s health. Could we possibly carry this sick man back down to civilization?

      To me this sick man was a minor miracle. We weren’t supposed to be here in the first place but he was our perfect reason for coming here. "We were flying over and saw that someone was in trouble." That was the truth plain and simple. We had no choice but to land.
     In fact, that is what I had suggested to Travira Air when they wanted to know how we were going to get official permission to start a tourist run into the lake. Sell it as a safety backup for mountain climbers and hikers who might get in trouble while they were on top. If we were to drop in a couple of times a week it might even increase the amount of hikers willing to risk the journey knowing that they could be rescued if necessary. Medical evacuations and exploration started bush flying and here we could combine the two.

      I agreed to take the man as long as he could be ready by 9:30 a.m. It was already 9:10 a.m., and the midmorning clouds were starting to fill the lower valley and spill out through the cut into the lake. By 10 a.m. the crater basin would be filled with clouds and we would be trapped. Jaron had the guide packed and ready to go by my deadline. We loaded him on board and Alex conducted a takeoff and spiral climb back toward the exit. Once through the cut we started a descent, slowly as not to affect our congested passenger, toward Mataram the capital of Lombok where we dropped him off.
      By the time we got to sea level he could already breathe easier and the colour came back to his face. After disembarking he shook our hands and turned to leave, no doubt dazed at the experience he had just been through. It took him three days to get up the mountain and less than 20 minutes to get back down. Janaldi Anar Farultuk Terhnir was on his way back to his family.
      Watching him trod slowly homeward I felt like I had accomplished something more important than just being the first person to have landed on the Indonesian Moon. Thanks to Jaron Miles Starling of Australia and his two-armed wave we had no doubt saved a man’s life.

Article and Images by John S Goulet

Note from the Editor. Tough decision... landing in a volcano. If you want to understand how difficult it was read the PropThrust article:

Challenge & Response.
How to talk yourself into landing inside an active volcano.

The attitude indicator will guide you back to Knowledge Based Stories.
Article and Images by John S Goulet

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Last modified on June 15, 2006 .
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