Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cape Town to Goodwood Day 16: Somewhere Deep in Equatorial Africa...

Spirit of Artemis and team is, as far as we know, still somewhere in Kenya. Or maybe Uganda. Or maybe already heading for South Sudan - a dangerous area even in the days of Mary Heath. So if they're keeping quiet about their exact whereabouts, there's good reason.

After she had flown from Nairobi to Jinja in Uganda, Lady Mary replaced the gaskets in her Avian, and then motored to Entebbe, just south of the capital, Kampala, and to this day the location of the country’s main airport.  She was a woman on a mission - Sir William Gowers, the Governor of Uganda was a renowned aviation enthusiast  and she needed his advice.
No woman was allowed to fly solo between Juba, just north of the border with the Sudan (now South Sudan) and Wadi Halfa, close to the border with Egypt, without the permission of the Royal Air Force stationed at Khartoum. A forced landing in the Sudd - 1,900 square kilometres of oozing swamp, a by-product of the Nile, could be fatal. Plus local tribes could prove less than welcoming and a British district commissioner had been murdered just three months earlier.
On Sir William's advice, Lady Mary proposed paying Captain Bentley £5 an hour to see her safely over the treacherous Sudd; he agreed. After an oil problem with Bentley's DH Moth meant a retrung to Jinja on the first attempt, they set off again a day later and reached Nimule, just inside the Sudanese border.
Mary Heath and the Bentleys back in London
This was  the official start of the no-go area. 
Here, Lady Mary found it impossible to stay with Bentley, who had slowed drastically: ‘I was flying 2,000 feet (600 m) above him, and must have had a more favourable air current because I had to keep turning and twisting to keep pace with him.’
Afraid that her engine would overheat, she pushed on, disregarding the warnings that she must not travel alone. She landed at Mongalla in sweltering heat and once the Bentleys caught up with her, headed on to Malakal, these days  still in South Sudan, with the danger area now behind them.

No comments: