Part Three (3) of the story of Captain Wendy A. Yawching
These were the years I really learnt to fly! Everything else so far had just been preparation. I remember the first day they walked the new pilots through the hangars, I thought I had never seen anything so big or beautiful as the DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft that we were going to train on. A 19-seat twin turbo-prop, it was the workhorse of the Caribbean. It did all the island hopping, throughout the Caribbean. I became intimately familiar with the challenges of each tiny airport on the small islands. Most of them started at the base of a hill, and ended in the sea. Touching down in exactly the right place, and stopping before the blue, was critical and you could never take it for granted no matter how many times you had been there.
ATC would often say;
In Carriacou: “Cleared to land, look out for cows on the runway”.
In Union Island: “Fly straight at the hill, look for the house with the blue roof, turn a hard right over their laundry line and dive to the runway.”
In St. Barts: “Fly as low as you can over the hill with all the crosses (marking dead people) and then dive down to the runway and watch out for the sea at the end.”
In St Eustatius: Long runway, but there just happened to be a large volcano off to the right side, and when the winds were strong they came over this volcano and got all excited, roiling and rolling and churning across the first part of the runway. Hold on to your hats and look out for wind shear!
And so, it went… but the most exciting of all was Cane Field, Dominica. The prevailing winds in the Caribbean are from the east, and most runways are laid to align as much as possible with these winds. Because of the topography of the island, the runway was laid north-south along a small strip of flat land on the west coast. At each end of the short runway is a small hill and behind the runway, towering hills with the wind rolling down them. I have never experienced such exciting landings as at Cane Field! The pilots used to say “When Cane Field kicking, brave men weep”.
In my first year at LIAT, the airline had their first (and only) crash. It happened at night in bad weather at St Vincent, another airfield that required huge respect. The first officer was a new pilot like myself, and we were friends. In fact, I was supposed to pick him up after his flight since he had not yet bought a car. I will never forget the moment I realized he was not coming home.
Those were years of learning, excitement, and fun. I learnt to really handle an airplane under tough conditions, a skill which has served me well. I learnt to work as part of a team, no matter who was sitting next to me. I learnt to respect the weather, the airfields, to never take anything about flying for granted, to check and double check. I learnt firsthand about Murphy’s Law. I learnt to respect and appreciate the many people who made our flights possible: the ground staff, engineers and mechanics, the fuelers, baggage handlers, everyone. We were part of a functioning organism and no part could survive without the others doing their job well. And I loved it all.
At the time, I was the third female pilot at LIAT. The other ladies were both senior to me and Captains on the Twin Otter. The guys were a mix of nationalities from the various islands, and treated me with a mix of humor and machismo. They soon learned that I was keen and would devise challenges to test me and improve my flying skills.
I also really enjoyed living in Antigua, where my personal life seemed like one big holiday of sun, sea and sky, outdoor adventures and good friends. I made it my personal goal to visit every single Caribbean island, so each month I would organize a few days OFF and jump-seat to a small island, and explore it. By the time, I left Antigua, I could say that I had visited every single island from Trinidad to Haiti, including some really tiny offshore ones, and could truly act as a Caribbean ambassador, describing the different flavors and nuances of each island. Each island is uniquely different.
At some point, I graduated to the DeHavilland Dash 8. A beautiful airplane, brand new and high tech at the time, very sophisticated (by comparison to the Twin Otter). I was in heaven! My routes were now a little different, we did the “bigger” airports: Puerto Rico, Barbados, Grenada etc. No more the excitement of Union island or Cane Field, but this lovely new airplane was exciting enough for me.
My next career step would have been Captaincy on the Twin Otter… but just when that was about to happen (1988) I got a call from both BWIA and Air Canada. They were both ready for me. I chose BWIA!
The story continues….
You can read Part One HERE
Part Two HERE
Part Four HERE