Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)

The Canberra landed, aquaplaned, lost the lot including his undercart - and that little trick closed the runway!

The day should have been so simple. San Paolo-Santiago with 300 passengers and lunch to serve, two hours on the deck, Santiago-San Paolo with 250 customers and dinner.

It became obvious that it would be a bad day when we, in our bright and shining British Airways 747 turned left at Mendoza when everything else was turning right. ATC spoke to all traffic, except us, in Spanish so our transmissions took longer and by the time they got to us we were way past our "a la derecha" and had to "izquierda"!

We landed, offloaded, re-catered; welcomed our new guests, settled them down and waited for the door to be closed. Ground staff came tumbling down the stairs from the flight deck and sprinted up the jetty. I went the other way and found an irate Captain. Santiago had messed up the load sheet, the balance had to be recalculated, an hour. As we waited, that Chilean Canberra came in and really spoiled our day. Ah, have I mentioned the rain?

So, there we were, behind the eight ball. Films were started up, the bar carts went out and, eventually, dinner was served, while we waited. The minutes ticked by, Flight Time Limitations, i.e. when do we become "illegal", came into the reckoning and all the while the Canberra sat out there, sulking. We watched the investigation choppers drop in but no civilian traffic moved. Flight Deck RT crackled, Lufthansa asking for pushback. This was unbelieveable, for we were number one for take-off and we all breathed easier when tower refused and advised "Breetish is number one, you are number four, minimum two hours".

Skipper to a conference, he returned with good news but mainly bad. We were heavy, a moderate passenger load, good freight load, but a fair distance to fly. We couldn't use the remaining, unblocked, runway but we could use the reciprocal since there was very little wind so runway 17 no, runway 35 yes. At which point tower closed runway 35, and would only permit takeoffs commencing at the Canberra. Bad news, compounded when our competitors all reckoned they could do it. Lufthansa had bigger engines, fewer passengers, no freight and a shorter sector, a no brainer. Air France were operating an Airbus and Aerolineas a 727, both lighter. From number one we were relegated to not number four but dead in the water, literally! We watched, mortified, as first the Airbus then the 727 and finally the 747 took off. Mind you, Lufthansa had to wind up its engines before the pilot released his brakes. But, we could have gone, and first, if the skipper had been prepared to believe the distances that had been worked out by running a car the length of the available runway and trusted in a man with a flag!!

We ran out of hours, our jumbo was going nowhere until tomorrow. We had the pleasure, with our passengers, of a night in a Chilean 5 star hotel.

Pero, es la vida, verdad??

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