A Pirate Tale
All things considered, October 27, 1956 turned out to be an eventful day.
As I flew my trusty Globe Swift over the Sonoran desert in Mexico, the sun was rapidly setting to the west. Although I could still see the desert below, it was harder and harder to make out the big rocks. "Come on," I thought to myself, "Turn the lights on. Turn the lights on."
I didn't want to alarm Mary, my wife and passenger in the plane. Of course, nothing could alarm her. As a child growing up in Bath, England during the war, she'd endured no less than three bombings during World War II; when one school was bombed, she was moved to another. When it was bombed, she was moved to another, and even the third school was bombed. By the time I met her, at twenty-four, she was bulletproof.
Still, I didn't want her to pick up on my anxiety. We were trying to get to Hermosillo, and I had been determining our course using dead reckoning for nearly the entire journey from Punta Penasco. Now I couldn't tell if I was on course, or if my correction for wind was accurate. I was certain we'd see the lights of Hermosillo, given that it was the only town for miles in this vast desert in northern Mexico.
The international distress frequency was 121.5, so I got on the radio and called 121.5.
"Hermosillo airport. Hermosillo airport," I said. I received nothing in return. I tried again. "Hermosillo airport. Inbound from the northwest. Would you please put on your lights?" I asked.
Suddenly, the lights came on directly beneath me. It was exactly when I had anticipated we'd arrive. And here we were.
I brought the plane down at Hermosillo airport. No sooner had I set her down than we were met on the ground by a jeep. Two men got out of the jeep, both soldiers. One held a machine gun.
"Follow me," the taller soldier said sternly. We followed him across the tarmac and into a small building. As we entered the building, the soldier holding the gun slipped around behind us. He marched us into a small, sparsely furnished office.
It was the office of Colonel Blanco, the Air Force Colonel who ran the airport. He sat at his desk, and looked up at us with a serious expression. He motioned for the soldier to put his gun down.
"Please, have a seat," the Colonel gestured to us to sit in the chairs across from him. Once we were seated, he asked, "Who are you?"
"We're Mark and Mary Black. We've just flown up from Punta Penasco," I tried to be friendly, "Boy, are we sure glad you turned your lights on for us!"
"We didn't," the Colonel said briskly. "They come on automatically. Our electricity is only on at night. Six o'clock is when the generators come on."
He paused. Mary and I just looked at him. I could see Mary was cool as a cucumber. God, how I loved this gal.
"You know, you were flying at night," the Colonel said.
"It's illegal to fly at night in Mexico," the Colonel said.
"I know," I began, "I just …"
The Colonel cut me off. "You were flying at night," he repeated, "…and this is illegal in Mexico. So this is what is going to happen."
The Colonel clasped his hands and rested them on the desk before him. He smiled slightly, causing his thick black mustache to lift to one side. "Let me tell you what's going to happen now, Mark and Mary Black," he said. "What's going to happen is we will dismantle your airplane. Not completely, but we'll take the wings off. We'll put it on a semi-truck trailer, and we'll ship your airplane back to your airport. Which airport is the one you keep your plane?"
"Van Nuys," I said quickly. "Van Nuys. Los Angeles. In the valley."
The Colonel nodded. "Yes, Van Nuys. We'll ship your airplane back to Van Nuys. Of course, you will pay for the shipping, and you will pay for the time and effort we need to do a good job disassembling your airplane and packing it up well."
I looked at Mary. She showed no fear or concern, but looked at me as if to say, you do the talking. "But how do we get home?" I asked, "You see, we're just spending a few days flying around Mexico. Really, we're harmless, we're just tourists." I tried to win the Colonel over.
"You can enjoy the rest of your trip, Mark and Mary Black. You can enjoy the good public transportation we have here. There is a rail line, you can take the choo-choo train back to California. Or maybe you can rent a car. Of course, it will cost you several hundred dollars to send your airplane back, but you'll have a good time here! You can enjoy Mexico." The Colonel smiled at us.
I was no longer feeling like the nice guy, and I was no longer afraid. In fact, I was feeling a bit steamed. After the day we'd had, to land in Hermosillo to this. I wasn't about to spend hundreds of dollars to ship my plane. I had an idea.
"Sir," I said. "May I have a word?"
"Yes?" the Colonel said.
"Well, the reason we were flying at night, and landing here, is because we went to Punta Penasco today, and we were captured by the pirates! Luckily, we escaped."
... for the rest of the story, contact me! - jp
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