We have a new guest writer! John has a passion for cryptic crosswords and sharp humor. Both qualities show up in his writing. He celebrated his birthday by flying over one of the legendary volcanos of the world in a homebuilt kit plane.
Friday Dec. 2007. A real Sagittarian’s day.
There is in Jakarta an authority which evaluates volcanic activity.
This Saturday morning the Pondon Dabe runway was playing host to a December Carnival. Thus it came to pass that radio control invited Captain C to employ only the furthermost end of the runway, and take off over the golf course. “Mind our parachutists and helicopters.”
Captain C had arranged to fly the Jabiru, PK-SKK, and I was invited to ‘take the right seat’. The flight — sightseeing and pleasure — was to take us east to Selat Sunda. The weather was favourable, winds light, and “some scattered cloud” at 2,000 feet. Radio control ushered us into the care of Soekarno-Hatta (Jakarta) international airport radio control, who felt we should remain below 2,000 feet for a while.
“Java is extremely fertile.”, I remarked to Captain C. “We’re not very high.”
“This is a good altitude to fly. There is some turbulence above, and if we go any lower we will have to stop at all the traffic lights.” 😯
Our route took us to the south of Mt. Karang, and above Labuan we entered the airspace over Selat Sunda. We had increased our elevation to 3,000 ft.
“The visibility is great. Let’s have a look at Krakatau.”
The location of Krakatau is/was 20 miles from the Java coast, but since the old mountain died, Anak Krakatau has grown up to take its place. Anak Krakatau was mentioned in the Jakarta Post about a week earlier because of increased activity. The picture in the paper was quite pretty: a plume of smoke, perhaps panache, at the summit of this symmetrical mountain cone.
We sighted Rakata. Such a sight! A well wooded, beautifully proportioned island in a gently rippling blue sea, and two other islands, Sertung and Lang, in a pretty cluster.
“There it is! You can see it there! Now! In the middle of those three islands.”
It was so: right in the middle, but smaller and quite cute – a scalene triangle on its base. We were six miles away from the spot in the sea where the centre of the old Krakatau had been.
That was a magic moment: my first view of this present day, living monument to one of the five greatest explosions from the crust of this planet.
“It’s going!” Captain C scrambled for her camera. Quickly! Take a photograph!”
It was! The smallest little cloud of grey could be seen in the hollow beside the apical crater (on the south slope).
“Here! Give it to me.” I had taken three photos of my chin.
The puff from that cough was a column some 400 to 500 feet high, and when the issue diminished the column rose majestically above the mountain.
We had been treated to a rare event. As we flew closer we counted ourselves lucky to have seen it.
At this distance we could now see thin white wisps escaping from several cracks in the lava, immediately beside both the apical crater, and the southern hollow. It must have been steam.
“It’s going again!!
There was an urgency, and even a violence with which this second explosion charged out of the mountain. The ash content must have been much hotter, as the whole angry mass distorted itself and turned inside out. We watched in awe as we flew west, keeping well north — there was a goodly north wind. For a few minutes we were silent (but for the camera clicks), watching in wonder, until this display came to an end. With our position still not quite north of Anak Krakatau, and our heads full of superlatives (we were quite excited), we believed the volcano was about to cough and splutter again.
This third activity was bigger than the earlier two, and very angry. And the smoke and debris extended upwards of 2,000 feet
We suggested to each other that now it reminded us of the pictures of atomic explosions. By now the explosive emissions were occurring without waiting for the previous outbursts to subside.
Our excitement was considerable. We continued flying west and watched the eruptions from the port windows. We turned flew past the north side of this volcanic activity several times. We counted five separate eruptions. When we headed back after about 15 minutes, Anak Krakatau was very active, and that was how we left it.
The return was uneventful: the skies were clear and the wind had dropped
I have never had a landing better than that Captain C gave me when we arrived at Pondok Cabe. I heard the wheels touch, but I could not feel any impact. The nose came down gently and we taxied smoothly home.
My worst landing was given to me by a friend in outback New South Wales when he crash landed. But that’s another story.
Capt C and her ‘right-handed’ passenger, John