Japan Mission Trips

Ever since I had arrived in Manila people had been asking, ‘When is the typhoon coming?’ This was not so that they could flee from it; they were complaining because there was no typhoon. The sultry heat was more oppressive every day, and the typhoon would clear the air. Typhoons rarely hit Manila itself, but were diverted north or south by the mountains, which typhoons usually preferred to go round rather than to climb. The Manila people had not long to wait; within a fortnight three-quarters of Manila City would be under water, and the only transport along the main streets would be bankas and canoes paddling.

A typhoon would be more dangerous for a seaplane than for a ship, but I was not seriously worried at that time because I thought that I could easily turn round and flee from a typhoon if I could not fly ahead of it. However, I had to reach Formosa before the typhoon got there. Formosa was my only possible route from the Philippines, and Father Selga was almost certain that this typhoon would make for Formosa.

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The day the floats and propeller were returned, everything seemed to go wrong; spanners slipped, nuts cross-threaded, and people interrupted me continually. I was driven nearly mad by prickly heat, I had a wretched cold as well, and my decapitated finger throbbed. The climax came when the motor refused to start; I swung the propeller until I could not see for sweat in my eyes, and I felt like seizing a sledge hammer and smashing the whole machine. Suddenly I saw myself as a stupid little insect making infinitesimally small struggles. I laughed, returned to the house and went to sleep for a few minutes. When I got back to the seaplane I found that it was child’s play to take all the electrical connections to pieces, clean them with petrol and replace them. The engine started at once. The whole seaplane and the floats were in excellent condition; the sun shone, and the sea sparkled. The motor had a harsh, full-throated bark that was music to my ears. The seaplane rose as lightly as a snipe, and skimmed to and fro over the surface trying out her paces.

Next morning there was no breeze whatever, and the seaplane was heavily loaded. I tried to take off two or three times without success, but the sea gradually calmed my angry impatience – I felt that I might be worse off. I took my kapok jacket, intended to keep a pilot afloat for three days, made a pillow of it on the wing and went to sleep. I woke to find a 10-mile breeze blowing. I tried twice more and then pumped forward some of the petrol in the back tank. The seaplane seemed nearer taking off, so I opened the cock and ran off petrol till the back tank was empty. This left me with only five hours and twenty minutes fuel supply for a five hours and twenty minutes’ flight, but I thought that there would probably be some place where I could come down if I did run out of petrol. I got off at the next attempt. I flew back to Williamson’s house and he waved to me from between two of his typhoon shutters. That cost me 20 miles, but I could not have left without doing it. Exactly five hours and twenty minutes later I came down on the Aparri River, which was my next stop. When I came to take off in the morning I stepped on to the float and it went straight under water; it was the same old bilge. I pumped for ten minutes, but the water was gaining, so I had the plane towed to shallow water close inshore. Slithering about on slime an inch thick, and standing up to my waist in water, I removed the manhole; the float compartment was about two-thirds full. I baled it out with the largest tin that I could pass through the hole at the top – a tobacco tin. When only a few inches of water remained I could see more water flowing in like a welling spring, but an A-shaped girder laid at the bottom of the float made it impossible to see the actual leak. I tried to think of some way to stop a leak, which I could neither see nor feel, and which was under water. With some kindly helpers, I pulled the seaplane up the slimy bank and rocked the floats on to a bedding of coconut husks, but when I washed the mud off the keel bottom there was no sign of any hole underneath. I filled the float with water, and there was no sign of any leak. Finally we slid the seaplane off the mud into the river, and I peered into the float; there was no sign of any leak. It then was too late for me to start that day, so I took one of my helpers for a short flight up the river, and afterwards there was still no sign of any leak. Next morning, when I stepped on the float, it sank again, exactly as it had done the day before. Again I tried to find the hole, and failed. ‘For heaven’s sake,’ I thought, ‘I must do something.’ But all that I could think of doing was to stuff a rag under the girder above the leak. With that I clapped on the hatch cover and took off for Formosa.

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