ONE YEAR ON TOUR, we had included Birdsville in our itinerary we but could not access it by road, as the floodwaters beat us to it. This disappointed many, so Ivan chartered an 8-seater plane to fly across from Innamincka, NSW.
The pilot of said plane was new to the area, and hadn’t done his night instrumentation ticket. When our return flight left Birdsville to head south it was, I thought, a little late in the day.
We quickly encountered strong headwinds. Before long, we were flying in the dark. I became very bloody nervous, so much so that I started the video rolling in the hope that someone would find it in the ruins of our crash.
The illuminated oilwell camps looked very different from the air. After some time, the pilot succumbed to my suggestion to call our group's UHF channel and inform them of our plight. I outlined the airstrip orientation to the pilot, and told him about the Telstra tower at the top of the hill. "What tower?" he asked. The Telstra tower was not illuminated by any night-light, but surely substantial enough to strip off a wing. I thought of jobs I’d left unfinished.
Eventually, after three passes, we landed by car lights after a local pilot on the ground was called in to direct the landing. When the doors finally opened, some of us were so frozen with fear we couldn't physically budge to climb out of the plane.
That night, dozens of people came into the pub to meet those who had a very close shave. The young pilot was taken outside and given a ferocious dressing down. Today, I wonder where that videotape is – must find it.