Recalling the scariest, dangerous flight from Juba to Rumbek in 2016

Posted: September 10, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Willy Mayom Maker, Juba, South Sudan

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Monday, September 10, 2018 (PW) — Seriously, are there aviation laws and regulations in South Sudan? Planes are old. Pilots and engineers are new and inexperienced. What a deadly combination! My condolences to the families of those who’ve died in the plane crash in Yirol! I took a plane from Juba to Rumbek 2 years ago, and it was the most dangerous flight I had ever taken! I wrote about that horrible experience last year . You might have read it already…

“I went to a travel agency (name withheld) in Juba. There was a huge queue when I arrived. People were pushing and shoving in the line; the strongest wanted to get in first. Baffled, I queued up behind the last person in the line, not because I had no muscles, but because I felt it was shameful, unethical and animalistic to trample the weakest and force my way in.

Soon, a man arrived, flanked by two armed bodyguards. He was probably a high-ranking officer or minister. His bodyguards moved people out of the way for the man to enter into the office. Obviously, he was travelling somewhere and wanted to purchase a ticket, just like everybody else. But because he had the power and authority, he couldn’t wait in line. An agent emerged to welcome the arriving dignitary. ‘Come in honourable,’ he said. The man went inside with his bodyguards.I was still the last one in line, but the line was not moving at all. The African sun was pushing on top of my head. I was sweating profusely. After a few minutes, a man emerged from the office and walked right up to me. ‘Honourable, come inside,’ he said. I looked back thinking he was talking to someone behind me. But no; he was talking me. I had never been called ‘honourable’ before. This felt a little weird. I almost told the man, ‘hey man, I’m just came from Canadian, and there’s nothing honourable about me.’ But hell no! I kept my mouth shut! Opportunity comes once in a life time, right? The privileges of the honorability were too precious for me to ignore. I was getting in and buying the ticket first. So, what the heck! Without hesitation, I accepted the name (‘honourable’) and followed the man inside, where I was seated next to the man with his bodyguards.

Soon I was called to the ticket counter. ‘I need a ticket,’ I said. ‘When is the next flight to Rumbek?’ ‘Mikin Bukura (maybe tomorrow,’ the agent said in Arabi-Juba. His answer worried me. ‘Maybe tomorrow’ was full of uncertainty. But I bought the ticket anyway and went back to Shalom Hotel.

First thing in the morning, a friend of mind picked me up in his car and took me to the airport. The main airport terminal was under construction, so there were makeshift structures, made of tents and plastic sheets. I checked in my bags, and I was shown waiting area inside a worn-out tent. The tent was hot and overcrowded. No oxygen. Even though it was morning, the sweat trickled down my back, free flowing like condensation on a window pane. All seats were occupied and many people were standing. I stood there sweating like hell. A Kawaja came and stood next to me. He was in a bad shape, much worse than me. The pain looks on his face told me he wasn’t having a good time in South Sudan. ‘Umak!’ I said to myself. ‘Leaving your luxuries in the West and come here when you well that your body was not built for these conditions.’

After standing for a couple of minutes, a young officer in uniform stood up and offered his seat to me. “Fozol (welcome), honourable,” he said. By now, I was enjoying the name. I grabbed the seat. Who wouldn’t? I mean, you have to be nuts to turn down the name ‘honourable’ with all the courtesy and respect that come with it.

After about 6 hours at the airport, an agent came to make an announcement. ‘Malesh yajamah (sorry people),’ he said in Juba Arabic, ‘the flight to Rumbek has been cancelled because the pilot is sick.’

‘When is the next flight?’ I asked the agent. ‘Mikin Bukura (maybe tomorrow),’ he replied.

I retrieved my luggage quietly and headed back to the hotel. The following morning, I headed back to the airport. Again, there was no flight. ‘Why?’ I inquired. ‘It’s weekend,’ I was told. I grabbed my bags and went back to the hotel quietly. What could I say or do? The man said planes don’t fly on weekend. I couldn’t argue with logic like that!

On Monday, I went back to the airport. No plane. ‘When?’ I asked. ‘Mikin bukura.’ Tuesday. No plane. I didn’t even bother to ask again; I already knew the answer: ‘mikin bukura.’

It took me almost two weeks before I finally found a flight to Rumbek. I checked in my bags before we were hustled toward a small, Russian made plane. At far, the plane looked nice and new. But when I got closer, it was a piece of junk. In some countries, that plane would be in the junk-yard. Seriously, the plane was rusty, and some screws and nuts were either loose or missing. I doubted if the plane would even get off the ground. But I had no choice!

Soon, two Russian men – a pilot and an engineer – arrived. The engineer took a ladder and climbed on top of the left wing of the plane. He tied a rope onto the propeller hook. I didn’t know what he was doing. Then, the pilot jumped into the cockpit and started the plane. Two propellers, right and front worked, but the left one didn’t. Then, I realized what the engineer was doing; he was starting the left propeller manually. With one swift move, the man yanked the rope, making sure it was off the hook of the propeller. Miraculously, the propeller came to life. This’s the first time I had seen a plane being started manually.

We boarded the plane. Some people started mumbling prayers. Others were obviously writing on Facebook, ‘Pray for me; I’m travelling by plane from Juba to Rumbek.’ Obviously, your own prayers seem insufficient or insignificant in that situation, so you have to mobilize the entire world to pray for your safety. The two Russians, too, mumbled something, possibly calling Russian gods. (I’m just speculating here.)

To make thing even worse, the plane was overloaded; some passengers were seated on the floor in the isle. The plane started to move slow and increasing its speed gradually. It was shaking, rattling, and vibrating violently. It had a pathetic climb rate, sluggish top speed, poor build quality, and the inability to perform sharp turns in the air. I spent fifty-five agony minutes from Juba to Rumbek. Miraculously, though, we made it to Rumbek safely! Thank God!”

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The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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