An Immigrant’s Tale

In the previous a-musing I wrote about the satisfaction of flying people around and the vicarious joy on seeing the pleasure in the faces of those who are able to gaze down on their home communities for the first time and even recognize their homes and houses.

I recall dropping patients off in Martinique when they needed to see a specialist, and picking them up again afterwards – we’re talking over twenty years ago here – and even suffering a day of frustration on the golf course at Trois Islets in Martinique when I ferried a load of golfers over for the day and agreed to join them on the course; I am definitely not a golfer by nature; I just don’t seem to be able to summon up the anger to beat the hell out of an innocent little white ball.

There were bad memories too. Before we settled down in St Lucia we used to stay at the Halcyon Days in Vieux Fort and I used to rent a plane from John Rix – I think he was in charge of the banana spraying operations out of Vigie. This was in the 1970’s. Every morning, in the season, we would hear the angry buzzing of the spray planes as they swooped down the valleys and across the banana plantations. You could almost smell the chemicals.

Some years later, John and his son Mario perished in an accident immediately after taking off from Vigie one evening – I think it was a Friday –and losing control after entering a left turn to go down the island to Hewannora. They ended up in an uncontrolled descent straight in the sea. It was said at the time that the lights on their instrument panel were unreliable; and without lights, in the dark, you have no way of knowing up from down; the end was inevitable.

Another sad thing, well, perhaps not sad, but a little disappointing, was that someone in authority was obviously not pleased by the amount of flying I was doing in and out of Vigie, or simply was incapable of understanding that anyone could actually get a kick out of flying people around for free.

Let me explain: One day, I received a letter from the FAA, the US authority that oversees everything aviation in the United States and the behaviour of US-certified pilots and planes, etc. the world over. They had received information from St Lucia that I was engaged in illegal flying-for-hire and demanded an explanation. I was mortified; in all my years of flying people for free, I had never encountered such an underhand, mean, unjustified and cowardly accusation.

At no time had anyone in aviation ever commented or questioned my flights. In fact, the air traffic controllers had been great all along. I remember one time we had a whole class of school kids on the apron at Vigie, standing smartly in line, waiting their turn as I took off and landed 20 minutes later, time after time, three at a time, until they had all flown up to Gros Islet, had a quick trip round Monchy, taken a little peep at La Guerre or wherever else they happened to live, and returned to Mother Earth.

Things were different way back then. No terrorists. No security. The kids behaved perfectly. Everyone was helpful.

I made my logbooks available and answered the letter. The FAA took no further action; they did, however, as a favour, allow me to know who my anonymous accuser was. Me being me, I confronted my accuser and asked, quite civilly, what the hell this was all about. He denied all knowledge of the matter despite the evidence – you know the song: It wasn’t me! Perhaps he was simply a pathetically jealous little man who had nothing better to do than invent stories and tell lies. Perhaps he wanted to assert his authority, not unusual in a country where every official guards his or her area of authority, however small, with the ferocity of a wild pig with piglets.

Something like this had never happened to me before – and has never happened since, anywhere in the world. No matter how much you love your home or your country, incidents like this nag at the mind and cloud sunny memories.


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