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‘A bit of wind’ greets first pilots ever to land on St Helena

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Picture by Andrew Louise Benjamin
Picture by Andrea Louise Benjamin

The plane looked tiny against the bulk of the King and Queen Rocks as it dropped smoothly down to the runway at the end of the historic first flight to St Helena.

It was, said Deon de Jager, another great day, “not only for the island’s history, but for everyone who worked well on the airport project.”

Nearly four years had gone by since the first staff from construction firm Basil Read rolled up Main Street in Jamestown on their way to begin transforming the desert landscape that would become St Helena’s first airport.

Saints and incomers worked alongside each other, blasting and shifting more than ten million tonnes of rock to make possible the moment when the Beechcraft plane and its five crew touched down at 20 minutes to two, local time.

Watching the plane approach, Deon, Basil Read’s director on the island, felt the same trepidation he experienced in July 2012, when the airport supply ship became the first cargo vessel ever to dock at St Helena.

“When they did the first flyover… a bit worried about the wind,” he told Mike Olsson of Saint FM. “That’s always to be expected on Prosperous, but they came in well.”

A de-brief would follow, he said, and then it would be on to the job the pilots, inspector and engineer had flown out for – working with specialists on the ground to calibrate the navigation, landing and communication systems at the new airport.

“If the weather holds we will be flying around for most of the day tomorrow,” he said.

Pilots Grant Brighton and Dillan Van Niekerk appeared unfazed as they described the experience of landing on St Helena.

“It went wonderfully,” they said. “No issues at all: a bit windy on the final approach but all good.”

If the weather were to “turn a bit bumpy”, that could have an impact on the 15-or-so hours of take-offs and landing to come. “With calibration flights we have to be flying precision approaches,” they said.

“We expect it to be around ten days or so at the very most, and get the job done.”


VIDEO: 5,000 tonnes of explosives and fuel by the shipload: why St Helena’s airport builders are careful with matches
IN PICTURES: The big switch-on at St Helena’s airport
Time-lapse videos recall historic landing
After the nerves, praise all round for successful docking

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