Tossed Coins, Dust Storms and Crash Landings
Bad weather affected the crossing of the Mediterranean. In trying to discuss what alteration they needed to make in their flight path, it was clear that my father and Pierre van Ryneveld had two very different opinions.
They made the decision to toss a coin to see which one to follow: heads one way, tails the other. And so, in the open cockpit, they tossed the coin! The decision turned out to be the right one and they reached their destination safely after an 11-hour crossing of the Mediterranean! But my father never revealed who had won the bet!
They made the decision to toss a coin to see which route to follow: heads one way, tails the other. And so, in the open cockpit, they tossed the coin!
I remember my father talking about some of the difficult moments they encountered when they were flying over North Africa. One such hazardous moment was a violent dust storm. As they were trying to navigate their way through it, the perils of flying in an open cockpit plane became particularly real to them. While their eyes were stinging with the dust, the open map they were consulting was ripped out of their hands by a strong gust of wind. And they were left to find their way to the next landing field without the map!
Crash near Wadi Halfa, Sudan
It was a problem with an overheating radiator that led to them having to make an emergency night landing in pitch darkness near Kurusku, north of Wadi Halfa. This was just one week after leaving England. Miraculously, they were able to land safely on the sand in the dark without the benefits of any airstrip or lights. Only the fires lit by the local people gave them some indication of where there was human habitation. However, as the plane taxied to a halt it ran into a huge pile of rocks or boulders and the fuselage was wrecked. A picture of this was published in The Times of London in March 1920.
As the plane taxied to a halt it ran into a huge pile of rocks and the fuselage was wrecked.
I remember my father saying that when it got light they saw that that it was a sandy desert landscape. The only rocks visible for miles in this arid area were, unfortunately, the ones immediately in the direction in which the plane was facing when it landed! Although the fuselage was irreparably damaged, they were able to salvage the engines. These were then taken back to Cairo by boat and train and fitted into the second Silver Queen.
The crash in Bulawayo
They had refuelled and were on the point of departure for the final leg of their journey to Cape Town. Hundreds of people turned out on what later became the racecourse to see them off. My father described the strange sensation as they took off. The plane just did not seem to have the power they expected to gain height. They were approaching trees, and try as they might they could not get up the power to rise above them. The plane caught in the trees and crashed. Miraculously none of them were hurt.
The reason for the crash was the atmospheric conditions at higher altitudes in tropical zones. The effect of this on an aircraft taking off with a full load of fuel was not yet known and, hence, no allowance had been made.
- From the 2006 correspondence between Veronica Brand and Sue Valentine