A Belem Story, Feb, 21 2021
I haven’t told this story before. It’s just one more near death experience in Belem in 1990 working on “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.”
Most of you know the backstory. I’ll review it quickly.
David Jones, the famous aerial coordinator and stunt pilot; “Apocalypse Now” is perhaps his most famous movie; hired me over the phone to fly from Seattle to Belem to maintain the DeHavilland Beaver used in the film.
The first set was at Madre de Deus. This was created on a Pirelli rubber plantation. The rubber trees had all died of disease. Typical of Belem just 240 miles south of the equator and at the mouth of the Amazon River. Dysentery ever day or worse for us in Belem. I lost 35 pounds.
It was hot. Over 110F every day with 90% humidity and a torrential thunderstorm coming in from the Atlantic in the afternoon about 4 PM. The sun rose at 6 AM and set at 6 PM every goddamned day.
The airstrip was created on cheap planking sitting on cheap piers set into the swamp. Huge poisonous snakes lived under that airstrip. One morning I went out to check the plane and the dirt runway was covered in centipedes. I threw gasoline on them and they writhed their way to paradise.
As you can see from the photos the airstrip was narrow, short, and one way in and one way out. Landing on it always made my asshole pucker.
To take off to the opening over the river, David Jones would rev the engine to its maximum, release the brakes, and pray.
To take off the plane needed flaps extended on the wings for added lift in the high humidity and heat.
One afternoon as we were taking off, me in the co-pilot seat; Jones suddenly said, “Shit! I forgot the flaps!”
He quickly pumped down the flaps and the plane just barely took off over the river.
If Jones hadn’t remembered to lower the flaps that hot afternoon; I wouldn’t be here.