Posted by: OCI | November 21, 2008

The Scariest Take-Off

Bob Norton is a medical missionary pilot for Adventist Medical Aviation in Venezuela. He shares this experience from earlier this week:

Bob and the husband carry the woman onto the plane beffore take-off.

Helpful villagers carry the pregnant woman to the plane before take-off.

I was in the village of San Miguel de Uriman, a big name for such a little village. The bush strip there is nothing great, like most of the places I fly into. It’s about 1,200 feet long, if you count the tall grass at the end and stretch it a bit. When you take off it is uphill, not matter from which end, with the highest part near the middle. There are trees on one end and a hill with trees on the other. It’s one of those strips where there is just no good way either in or out. Except for these things it is a great little strip, or would be if the grass was cut short so it wouldn’t cause drag during take off. Because the wind is more favorable I usually take off toward the trees. Also the climb up the hump mid-strip is less steep from that direction, so it’s easier to get airborne.

This day the emergency flight was for a pregnant woman who’d taken a bad fall and her baby was in trouble. I had her husband sit in the back seat with her. Starting the airplane I “taxied” through the tall grass, up over the hill and down the other side to the end of the strip. I checked the winds, and conditions looked great, but I had a feeling I needed just a bit more strip, so went further into the waist-high grass before turning around to take off.

I had a good run getting going and the air speed was just coming alive as I got to the top of the hill. In that instant my mind shouted, OH NO, HELP!! There on the strip was a flock of kids—humans, not goats. They were running down the strip trying to outrun the airplane. None were getting off to the sides and I didn’t have room to stop. If I tried to stop I would certainly run over all of them and hit the trees at the other end. I got more flaps coming down, although painfully slow. I glanced out to see if they were even moving. My plan was to jump over the children and then figure out how to get over the trees. I had to act now since the slower kids continued running down the strip straight in front of me. From the time I spotted them until I had to jump over them was less than a second, and at that moment I wished for manual flaps.

Just before I hit those behind I pulled hard on the yoke while talking to the bird to convince it that it could fly. It did, and I just barely missed them. It was so close—you don’t even want to know. Now for the trees! I pushed hard on the yoke, pushing the nose back down since the strip drops downward towards the trees. I had only 40 mph air speed and lots of flaps hanging out. I needed some speed to fly. I quickly brought the flaps up just a bit as I dropped back towards the ground again, muttering to the bird, “You can fly at this speed. Come on, fly.” I got 45 mph out of it and held the nose up again. Up and over the trees we flew and then down over the river and I was flying!

I’ve never had any problem previously with the village people getting on the strip. I have had a few “well educated” people from up north who thought it would make a great picture to stand right in the middle of the strip and film the airplane landing or taking off, but never any natives. I told Celco, our radio operator, about my experience. He talked to the villagers in Uriman as well as the Captain over all that area.

The message was taken seriously. The next time I landed, taking patients back home, I spotted faces in the bushes at the far end of the strip, but not one child came out onto the strip, not even after I had stopped and shut off the engine. I thank God for helping me that day so no one was hurt. There isn’t much which scares me, but that experience shook me up for days. I would have run over a dozen children!

Thank you for your continued prayers for our protection and God’s guidance.

God bless,



  1. I read about Bob Norton’s missing plane in February. Has he, his passengers, or his plane been found?

  2. They have not yet been found. People are still searching, and I hope you will keep praying for those searching, those missing, and their families. God bless!

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