Flying off to find adventure

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  • Thursday, 19 Oct 2017

“WHAT? It’s raining rice from the sky!” exclaimed a Bernama lady journalist on board a Nuri helicopter.

She was surprised as the weather was favourable and sunny. How could it rain under such conditions?

She was awakened from her nap when the hujan beras splashed on her face and attire.

It so happened the journalist was seated right next to an air-sick photographer who sat nearest to the open door of the Nuri helicopter.

This ‘perpetrator’ of the hujan beras was always prone to both altitude and sea sickness. He had chosen the seat nearest the door to get more ventilation.

Unfortunately, the wind had blown the hujan beras right onto her and another journalist seated next to her.

The rest of us could not do anything to help them. We were not supposed to unfasten our seatbelts.

If we had done so, we would have been flung overboard.

We were not harnessed to the railing, unlike the officer in charge of us.

All the lady could do was to conduct a quick cleaning using two packets of tissues from her handbag.

The incident happened in the early 1980s when a media group was invited by the army to interview soldiers on the hills along the newly constructed East-West Highway.

The soldiers were unable to take leave, even on Hari Raya. Their duty to safeguard the sovereignty of the nation always came first.

The venue was near the Malaysia-Thailand border and there were still remnants of communist activities there.

Another memorable flight for me was on a Cessna from the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

My good friend Captain Roland Yap had invited me for a joy ride around the island.

Yap was once the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations president.

A photographer was going to join us on the plane.

He really looked forward to the trip. But when I told him I would be the co-pilot, he frowned, being of a cautious nature.

I assured him that I would take over the steering wheel only when it was set to auto control after gaining momentum.

“Never mind. No aerial photographs. Picture of the pilot in the pit is good enough,” he said.

“I prefer to keep my feet on the ground. Have a good time and safe landing,” he added.

We flew at a low speed to admire the beauty of the sea, jungle and mountains from the air.

The one-hour flight on the ‘tiny bird’ was very enriching.

I have also flown on this four-seater passenger plane from the Miri Airport to the Mulu Unesco heritage site in the jungles deep in Sarawak.

Small it may have been. But the plane was good enough to provide us with a picturesque view of the winding river below.

Due to its size, the Cessna needs only a small and short runway at the jungle fringe.

I also remember the time I flew on a Bell Jetranger helicopter to a remote and dense jungle near Kota Kinabalu in 1975.

The helicopter was on a very important mission. It was a flight of mercy, taking the flying doctor team to treat the natives there who were almost cut off from civilisation.

Their kampung was in a remote spot, inaccessible by road or river.

Walking non-stop from Kampung Buayan, it took two days for a person to reach the nearest town.

The trip was sponsored by the then Sabah Foundation director Datuk Syed Kecik Syed Mohamad.

The 100 villagers and 20 dogs welcomed our arrival.

The dogs were trained as hunters and acted as guards to protect the plants against wild boars, monkeys and mousedeer.

The villagers accepted modern medication and treatment but still used traditional herbs.

I wished I had the opportunity to follow the villagers on their hunting trips for wild boars, snakes, pangolins and monkeys.

These wild creatures formed part of their menu.

> A.R. Amiruddin is a former journalist with The Star for 19 years and the defunct National Echo for 10 years. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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