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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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:
Last modified on
June 15, 2006 .