Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Final desert despatch... Harmattan Season

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a team to a quiet part of Chad, one of the remoter parts of the world we fly into, my passengers included a couple of dentists with their kit, who would be rare visitors in this most beautiful part of this remarkable nation.  Much of Chad is covered by the most the most splendid golden sands, filling horizons as far as the eye can see, and some of the mountains could be scenery usually only found on Mars! Most of the time the dry air provides skies that are so clear you can see forever especial in the higher grounds.
Here we are giving some soldiers a lift into town from the airstrip

Pre-dawn tow down to the main apron to file flight plans,
 pick up weather and find any passengers
... but it was very different arriving early in the morning at our hanger in N'Djamena to pre-flight the aircraft and get it ready for it's day's work, at a time I might add when any truly sensible bird would be pondering if it was worth throwing off the sheets and popping out for a quick worm or in this neck of the woods, lizard! Driving through pre-dawn N'Djamena is like driving trhough a ghost town.

Visibility was down to 1500m due to sand and dust suspended in the air which whilst not the end of the world in my well equipped aircraft at an International Airport like the one here,  after all I could land if needed in only 700m visibility; though I would need 1200m to depart! However it is very different operating into simple airstrips in remote areas where weather reports are not so easy to come by and of course it is worth remembering that weather can get better, but it can also get worse on any given day! So you need much better visibility than this if you are going to head out  into the wild blue (or Khaki)  yonder and it did not look great enroute, at my destination or the airfield I would need to divert to if I could not land at my destination, a mere 1hr 50 flying time from where I was trying to get to!  All in all translating pilot speak into English, 'Time for coffee as we are remaining secure on terra firma for the day', as after all this is Haramattan season.*

The sky was a beautiful blue, the air temp slightly on the warm side of 42C, my aircraft's bright orange high viz paint scheme (standard issue for all aircraft based in Greenland, as it once was) contrasted beautifully with the silvery sand pouring along the airstrip in the fierce breeze, like staring into a hair dryer on full blast. Then on the edge of the sandy airstrip you could see it, a white wall tumbling down the runway, then the sandblast hit, one turned ones back into the sharp probing sand needles as the silver white cloud enveloped one, the silicon fog gave all and sundry a good shaking before it was gone in an angry cloud of dust, off to cause havoc to all who got in it's way. A couple more of it's friends gusted in but the patient that I was evacuating to N'Djamena after a car accident, arrived with an escort of soldiers and vehicles between 'visits', so I soon had him strapped into the stretcher and ready to go.  As I taxied the aircraft to my departure point I kicked up my own dust wall but needed little of the sand covered airstrip as I headed into the turbulent heat seared air, climbing bouncingly over the desert dunes to head the short trip back to the Capitol. It is Harmattan season.
This photo is the start of the wall of sand crossing the end of the airstrip  and actually looks quite harmless!

*Wikipedia on the Harmattan winds. In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days,comparable to a heavy fog.It can even break the trunk of the pine trees, growing in that region, through their dryness. The effect caused by the dust and sand stirred by these winds is known as the Harmattan haze, which costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year and risks public health by increasing meningitis cases.The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause  tornadoes. Humidity drops to as low as 15 percent and can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some. The wind can cause severe crop damage.

1 comment:

  1. Bryan, Once again thanks for a fascinating view of your life. The dust storm reminded me of the ‘bull dust’ we used to get in Australia when I was serving there. This dust was so light it was like talcum powder and would hang in the air for ages after a vehicle drove down the road, on some convoys we had 15 minutes between vehicles in order that the next driver could see the road.
    On one occasion a helicopter landed near our tent to deliver some vital kit. We had to keep shouting to the pilot so that he could find our tent in the resultant dust storm.
    Oh- those were the days......