St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)

Hewanorra Airport was a legacy of the Second World War, a concrete strip built under US/British lend-lease arrangements as a possible staging post; the runway runs in approximately a west-east direction from a bay at one end to a stretch of rocky coast at the other.

We had very recently introduced a new service with a Boeing 747 aircraft, carrying nearly 400 passengers, nearly three times the capacity of the Boeing 707 that it replaced. Our handling agent, LIAT, the airport management and staff had received training on handling the new aircraft but they and the island’s population at large were still getting used to having this huge beast arrive twice a week, very much larger and more complicated than the aircraft they were accustomed to.

The airport, though, had more than adequate facilities for a 747. Although there is water at both ends of the runway, there is plenty of runway length for this aircraft to land, taxi to the end of the runway, turn on the turning circle provided, retrace its path down approximately a quarter of the runway length, turn off at right angles and taxi to its stand.

It was, I believe, about the eighth flight with a 747 when the incident happened. The aircraft landed - and instead of taxiing sedately to the end of the runway, came to a very abrupt stop at a point level with the taxiway entrance. Nothing happened for a few moments, then the flight engineer climbed down through the nose wheel and an emergency vehicle appeared and made its way to the aircraft. Together they started to examine the aircraft.

I did not have direct radio contact with the flight deck, so made my way to the top of the control tower to find out what was happening. The captain was explaining that as the aircraft landed, all three of the flight crew had seen a woman wearing a bright red dress run out from the undergrowth at the side of the runway, waving her arms in the air. She then disappeared between the two port engines of the aircraft as it passed her. They could not be sure whether they had hit her.

Eventually, the aircraft taxied in to its stand. A very white-faced flight crew disembarked, and the flight and station engineers examined the aircraft closely for any signs of impact. They could not find any sign that anything untoward had taken place. At the same time, an emergency team was dispatched to search the part of the runway and adjacent land where the woman had been seen. Although they searched for several hours, nothing or nobody could be found, and when darkness started to fall, followed by a heavy shower, the search was called off for the night.

Our station engineer lived locally in Vieux Fort and always kept his ear fairly close to the ground for local gossip. After a few days a shadowy story emerged of some local people who were strongly opposed to this large new addition on their lives, the twice-weekly 747, and had decided to hire a witch to destroy it. There is still a lot of superstition, voodoo and witchcraft among country people in the Caribbean and the story appeared eminently plausible – certainly believable enough for a version of it to appear in the national newspaper. It was said that the woman had been badly injured by the encounter and had been taken away by those who had hired her and she had subsequently died from her injuries. However, the police made extensive enquiries over a period of weeks and did not find any evidence of any missing person. The story was then largely forgotten by those who had not been involved.

The same captain passed through St Lucia again a few weeks later and enquired anxiously whether there was any further news of the incident, or whether anybody had been found. There wasn’t any further news to give him, and to my knowledge the incident remains an unsolved mystery to this day. However, the captain and I did subsequently discover in conversation that we had played cricket together as lads. Small world.

Boeing 747-236 G-ADXP

Image: b747

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