In the southern parts of Malawi there is a National Park called Liwonde, it borders the Shire River for about 7nm and within this 7nm of river they estimate there is over 2000 hippos.
We would often fly guests to the airstrip within the National Park and to add to the experience we should usually follow the river rather low level and allow the guest to take photos of the animals on the river banks. It was great we would always see numerous amounts of hippos, massive crocodiles, elephants and plenty of antelope.
On one occasion, I was flying a couple down to Liwonde, briefed them about following the river low level and it was happy days. After about 40 minutes of flying we found the river and started to follow it, the pax absolutely LOVED IT! Whilst this was all happening the pax sitting in front next to me, leaned over and said “You wouldn’t want the engine to fail now, it would be a difficult swim with those Hippo’s and Croc’s”, I agreed with him made a slight joke and we continued the flight and landed on the dirt strip all safe and sound.
I said goodbye to my pax and started up for my positioning sector to another airfield not far from Liwonde. After take-off I followed the same track which we came in on, up the river, low level, watching the animals. Those where always the best flights, flying solo, the air is super stable and there is not a breath of wind. Then all of a sudden….. in almost the exact spot where my pax made that ridiculous joke, the engine starting making some strange sounds and just stopped producing power.
The very very first thing that went through my mind was “this is ironic….”, before resorting back to my training and trying to get out of this sticky situation without going from a swim with the Crocodiles. I always find it strange how you can go from feeling on top of the world to sweats and shivers in just an instant.
I followed all the procedures to try get the engine going again and prepared for the worst. About 30 seconds after the engine stopped and a significant amount of altitude disappearing in the wind (always good when you are low level), I hear and feel the sweet ravenous raw of the Continental engine coming alive again. The joy and happiness that I experienced in that moment was more than 100 Christmas mornings combine together, I couldn’t believe it.
I proceeded to climb at Vx to the highest possible altitude I could get to and continued with my short 15 minute sector.
Upon my safe arrive at my destination, I got out the plane, kissed the ground, changed the underwear and inspected the aircraft. What I experienced was a vapour lock, Cessna C210’s are renown for Vapour Locks especially in the middle of summer in Africa. They are definitely not ideal when you are flying low level, never to be done again.
I learnt a lot of lessons that day which will stick with my for the rest of my aviation career.