Dangerous beginnings – 1st leg of the flight to Africa (1/2)

Treasures from The Pioneer Era, reported by Ernie Tanner:

On 17 January 1972, my companion Marcel and I set off in our small piston helicopter on our 1st ferry flight from Belp in Switzerland to Cameroon. My godfather came to see us off and said, “This may be the last time we see each other on this earth.” He meant, “Either you won’t survive this adventure at all, or I shall die in the meantime.” 

He could be right! It took only a few minutes to convince me of it. My first destination was Lausanne in the Western part of Switzerland. I was reluctant to fly over the city of Bern and set course southwards to look for the highway leading to Lausanne. However, I soon lost my bearings. I landed near a road, ran into a restaurant with my map in my hand, and asked where I was. Of course, I didn’t tell them I was on my way to Africa! Clouds were hanging low and covering the Schwarzenburg hills which I had to fly over. I found a valley going south, with a railway line – but after a minute or two this disappeared into a tunnel.

According to the map, the hills weren’t very high. I accepted the risk and continued flying south, low over the treetops. Suddenly a power line loomed out of the fog in front of us. I was already too close to turn aside so I hauled the helicopter up into the fog, keeping my eye on the cables which unconsciously served me as a horizon, and waited until the first thin cables below me were past. Now I had to drop, more or less flying blind, through the fog until the treetops appeared again beneath me. That took some time, because the power line followed the ridge of the hill. Finally, I found a clearing in the forest and circled a couple of times to get over my fright. We both took a huge deep breath when we landed at the small airfield in Lausanne. The first difficult stage was over.