It happened just after the end of the first civil war. I had to fly to Pointe Noire, from Brazzaville, both in the Congo.

The airport looked like a mess. The windows in the departure hall were shattered, and 7.62 mm bullet scars abounded cratering gray concrete walls, no running water, no electricity. I was booked on a Lina Congo flight, a company owned by the government, with some 800 employees and one aircraft. Finally, the waiting was over. As I entered the Fokker 50 jet plane, I realized that most of the seats were broken. Suitcases and boxes were piling up five feet high in the gangway, and also in the lavatories to the point that it filled all the smelly space entirely.

I found myself a functional seat next to the rear-left turbine. People streamed in until the plane was packed, standing around or even sitting on the boxes of the gangway. The air in the plane was hot and saturated with an acidic stench of sweat.

Five minutes later the pilot started the engine. There was a strange tack-tack-tack-tack noise, originating from the engine, increasing in frequency as the turbine accelerated. Something inside the turbine wasn’t kosher. ‘It will either blow up right now, or work,’ I tried to persuade myself.

The pilot released the brakes and the plane hobbled toward the runway. The turbines screamed as the plane chased along. I looked through the window. There passed the remnants of the Brazzaville zoo, a shanty town, a graveyard with many new graves.

By that time we had already been chasing along for a seven hundred yards.

‘The plane is heavy, and we’re moving somewhat slow,’ I told myself.

‘But Brazzaville has got a long runway, more than 1800 yards, good enough even for Jumbo jets.’

Yet, alarmed, I felt my heartbeat. Blood shot through my veins. Something was wrong and I knew it. The overloaded plane was still rolling and desperately trying to accelerate farther. The engines screamed.

This runway was long, but it wouldn’t last forever.

I whispered prayers. Scenes of my life shot through my brain. What would I leave behind, if we were to crash into the suburbs of Makele-kele?

‘Oh My God, please…’

A powerful vibration shook the aging jet, but then it lifted off like a bumble bee with lead wings.

I looked down the window. I saw the grass patches beyond the end of the runway, then bushes. Farther away beyond loomed the gorges with the Congo rapids. We were in the air, at last, and rising, though with some difficulty.

I leaned back, and took a deep breath. Foggy cool air stremed in through the nozzle above. Alive once more. I seized a paper towel and wiped the cold sweat from my face.


© 2008 by Franz L. Kessler