Exploring the largest sand island

Exploring the largest sand island

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a pilot. My love of flying started at a young age when my family moved from England to Australia. I remember boarding a British Airways 747-400 and been blown away by the sheer size of it. Everything about that flight cemented my goal of becoming a pilot. Fast forward to 2012, I signed up for the Australian Air Force Cadets and began flying gliders. As a glider has no engines you only have one attempt at landing them. This knowledge and skills I learned from this really help set me up later in life for my commercial training on simulated engine failures.

In the final year of high school, I still wanted to be a pilot but I severely doubted my abilities. I ended up taking the easy road and do what I knew I was good at: business. It took me all of four weeks to drop out. It wasn’t for me, sure I could do it, but for life? No thanks. 

At this point, I decided I would surround myself with aviation and applied for every possible job at Brisbane International airport. I ended up landing a job as a ground handler. I got to know all the pilots and asked them about becoming one. They were honest and upfront with me, they told me it wouldn’t be easy but it was worth it. That’s when I decided to sign up for a flight school: if I didn’t try it now, I would always regret it.

The pilots weren’t wrong: it was long hours of studying, planning and flying but it was all worth it. I passed my commercial flight test and landed my first job up in Fraser Island. Our company, Air Fraser Island is one of two commercial operators in the whole world that can take off and land from the beach.

Landing on Fraser Island is completely different from any other airport and isn’t an easy task. The runway you take off from may not even be there when you go to land. The beach strip is constantly changing with the tide, water washing in and out, debris, cars and animals. It a challenging job but it has fine-tuned my skills and made me a better pilot for it.

I remember the first time I ever landed on the beach solo; it was like reliving my first solo landing ever. The conditions were perfect, however that didn’t stop my heart beating out of my chest. I completed my relevant checks and looked for the two cones placed down on the beach. I remember descending lower and lower and seeing the crystal-clear water in my peripheral vision as I got closer and closer to the ground. I touched down and brought the aircraft to a steady halt. I had a small sigh of relief. I had done it and there lied the start of my career, and what an awesome career it is.

Every day I fly park rangers, resort staff and other workers over to the island. From there, myself and the team begin scenic flights for the day around an 80km circuit of the island. Some of the sites include Lake Mckenzie, Eli Creek and Freshwater Lake. During the June to October period I am lucky enough to spot whales almost every single flight. I love seeing my passengers’ eyes light up in glee as they witness the whales breaching. 

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the whole world; however, it is mostly undiscovered. I often receive comments from passengers who are completely taken back by the sheer size of the island. A large majority of the scenic flight that we offer at Air Fraser is only accessible by air, I love that I can provide that for people. 

I took a huge risk placing my studies on hold for this job but it pays off every day. Seeing the joy my scenic flights bring to people is the best part of my day.  

We would like to thank Raife Crayford for sharing his story and the experience he offers. You can follow his journey on Instagram @raifecrayford

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