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Leg 57 - Bouake (DIBK) to Ouagadougou (DFFD)

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There was no two ways about it… I was late!


I all but ran through the departures lounge at Heathrow Airport, apologising to several unsuspecting travellers as I weaved left to right and my wheeled cabin-case (accidentally) ran into their ankles...Where on earth was the check-in desk?


“You’re lucky”, the desk assistant said, “if you can get through Passport Control without a hitch, you should just be able to make it to the gate in time”. He handed my passport back and with a hurried thank you and apologies for my tardiness, I headed for Security.


I chose what appeared to be the fastest line, which, of course, ended up being one of the slowest thanks to a group of giggly girls, obviously off on their hen party trip, dressed in pink, complete with fluffy wings and pink feather boas. Naturally, they stopped at every possible moment to take ‘selfies’ with the bride-to-be who had what could only be described as a net curtain tied to her head, and a bright red ‘L’ plate on the back of her dress. Thank heavens they weren’t getting on my flight; mind you, that was the first time since my husband had dropped me off, that I was starting to question why on earth I was getting on my flight!



When I had originally been asked to fly the route for a friend who ran a west African charter company, I had readily agreed. It fitted in perfectly with the ATWC schedule and I would actually get paid for doing it. My enthusiasm began to wane after the unrest a few weeks back at a popular Ouagadougou tourist hotel had put the area centre stage on almost every news station and newspaper in the western world, and I was heading right for it, by way of the Ivory Coast. It probably wasn’t the brightest of decisions I’d made so far this year, however, the Baton needed to get there, and I wasn’t about to let Joe down, so I’d better show some tenacity and get on with it.


I can’t say that my first leg to Nairobi was too pleasant. I’m definitely not a fan of the Dreamliner, and despite the extra-large windows and supposedly serene mood lighting, it did little to detract from the otherwise drab puddle-brown cabin interior. Thank heavens it was a night flight and I could pop the eye mask on and stick the ear plugs in. Even the predictable screaming babies and unrestrained toddlers running up and down the aisle were expunged from my thoughts. The turnaround in Nairobi was only a couple of hours, and just enough time for me to stretch my legs before the onward flight to Abidjan.


As soon as I was in the terminal I checked my voicemail messages. There was a message from my charter company contact, Phillippe, to let me know he’d booked my flight to Bouake for the following morning, and reserved my hotel room at the Onomo Abidjan, about half a mile from the airport. Result! With the temperature creeping into the 30s, I’d have the rest of the day to sit by the pool, call home, and maybe do some sightseeing.


The airport courtesy bus dropped me at the reception of the Onomo, and I walked up to the Check-in desk eager to get my key and have a much needed shower before reviewing my options for the afternoon. “I’m sorry ma’am, your card has been declined…. Ma’am?” the receptionist prompted. “Are you sure?” I replied. I definitely wasn’t expecting that as I’d never had a problem using the Mutley’s Corporate card before now. Maybe it was a problem with the card machine; I asked her to try again. “The card is definitely declined, Ma’am” the receptionist looked at me as though I was some sort of fraudster. Begrudgingly, I took my personal Visa out and handed it to her. OK, not a major biggie; the room was only 140 quid. I’d send an email to Joe to let him know. Formalities done, and room key in hand, I was off to freshen up.


After calling home, and sending an email to Joe to let him know about the malfunctioning credit card, I decided against checking out the tourist sites and instead headed for the pool. My husband isn’t one for beach holidays so I thought I’d make the most of a bit of sun, and cocktails from the pool bar.


The Dash 8 flight to Bouake the following morning was surprisingly empty given that there were only 2 flights a week. I chose a seat right at the back and barely had enough time to enjoy my complimentary coffee before we were coming in to land on runway 21.




As the aircraft engines were shut down and the cabin doors opened to a blast of blistering, dry heat, I pulled out my mobile and turned it on. Damn, no signal. I’d have to check my messages and texts later. Phillipe met me in the arrivals area and following the customary French greeting and kiss on both cheeks, he grabbed my suitcase and headed for the car park. Before he dropped me off at my hotel, he wanted to introduce me to the client, and ensure that all the arrangements had been made. We drove round to the Northern section for the airport to a group of buildings, hangars, and what appeared to be barracks.


We parked up next to a dilapidated hanger and Phillippe instructed me to gather my passport, papers, and follow him. Passing through the hangar, we passed several tired aircraft that probably hadn’t taken to the sky in at least a decade.. thankfully, my aircraft was, Phillippe reassuringly told me, a bit more up to date.



Through a door at the back of the hangar we walked across the tarmac to an outlying building where I was warmly greeted by a group of French and American military personnel. “Phillippe said we should be in for a surprise when you arrived, ma’am”, said one of the group with a distinct Texan accent. He didn’t offer his name, and I could tell right away that there was little point in me asking. This didn’t have the tell-tale signs of a private charter any more than it did a full military sanctioned flight.

“We’ve filed your flight plan, fuelled the bird, and your cargo will be loaded and ready for you to depart at 0600 Zulu. You will be given your flight plan, weather reports and instructions in the morning”. I was just about to protest that I could file my own plans, supervise cargo loading and calculate my own fuel, thank you very much, when Phillippe put a hand on my shoulder as a silent warning to back off. I smiled and nodded.. no sense in making a scene. “Mac and his team here will meet you at 0500, Parking stand 8”, he said motioning to a man dressed in overalls, who returned my nod with a “Ma’am”.  The meeting was concluded.

Back in Phillippe’s car, I had to try and find out a bit more.. This was a clandestine flight if ever I saw one, and I at least wanted to know what the cargo was. “Don’t worry”, he said in his calming Parisian voice, “you’re safer with them than you would be going by train”.

Before I was able to respond tartly with my own opinion of the ‘client’, a shrill beeping sound heralded the arrival of a text message, and I pulled out my phone to find I had 4 missed calls from a number in Sweden, and a voicemail message. I called my mailbox and sure enough there was a message from Mikael. John had been arrested almost as soon as he had arrived in Bouake, and was in the clink!


As I started to wonder what had become of the baton, Mikael’s message continued, “He’s left it in a plant pot in the airport terminal at Bouake. Can you try and find it after you go through Immigration but before you get to the baggage reclaim?” “Blast it!” I blurted out, before I realised I’d said the words out loud. I was already here, and there was no way I was going to be able to get back into that part of the airport. “What’s the problem?” Phillippe asked. I told him my dilemma. Perhaps I could fly out of Bouake and then back in again, but there were only two flights in and out each week, so that wasn’t an option if I had to get the baton to Ouagadougou by Sunday evening. “There may be a way” Phillippe mused, “but it will cost”. I described the baton and the rough location, trying desperately to remember how many plant pots I had seen when I had flown in only a few hours earlier. Jeez, it could be anywhere..


Phillippe dropped me off at my hotel; the rather rustic looking Mon Afrik; and promised to do what he could. Once again, the company credit card wasn’t cooperating, so the Visa got another airing to settle the hotel bill, and again in the bar. I waited impatiently (by the pool) for an update from Phillippe.


I never sleep well when I’m away from home, and with the whereabouts of the baton still unknown late in the evening, I only managed a few hours’ sleep. Joe was going to go spare if I didn’t retrieve the baton. I could have benefited from matchsticks for my eyelids, but strong coffee would have to suffice, and mercifully the hotel had 24hour room service.




My mobile phone lit up.. a message from Phillippe. All was well and he would pick me up in 30 minutes. There was also a text from Joe to advise me not to use the company credit card as it had been maxed out in Cape Verde and Joe was checking out the purchases with the card company (that explained things).


I showered quickly, dressed in my full pilot’s uniform (tie included), then walked out to Reception to check out. Phillippe’s car drew up outside and I got in, looking expectantly at him. He grinned and produced the baton from the glove box, waving at me as though he was about to throw a stick to a puppy! I grabbed it from him; “How on earth did you manage to get it?” I asked incredulously. “I’d hate to reveal my sources” he said with a wink, “but I’m afraid this means your fee for this trip is a LOT less than we agreed”. “Ok, I’ll worry about that when I’m back in the UK. I owe you for this one, Phillippe” I said, breathing a genuine sigh of relief.


Phillippe dropped me off and after giving me a hug, he drove off into the night. I put the baton right at the bottom of my flight bag, straightened my tie, and walked into the Terminal.

I could make out the silhouette of the Pilatus PC-12 as I walked up to stand 8. She looked immaculate even in the moonlight. I hadn’t flown one for several years but I’d have enough time to familiarise myself before I pushed back. I thought it strange that it was parked near the terminal but I guess the client wanted it to look like any other private charter.

Mac and his team had already arrived and I just needed to do my external checks, go over the weight and balance sheets, and review the flight plan and weather.


The weather was calm with some cloud at 7,000ft but the route itself looked innocent enough.. less than 2 hours, this could be the easiest leg of the ATWC yet.

My Passenger was already aboard seated at the rear on the port side, and I could make out the top of his head.  “Bonjour”, I began, and then, when no response was forthcoming, I walked down the aisle. “Good Morning. We’ll be on our way shortly, so if you could fasten your seat belt…" The head nodded in assent, and a pair of icy blue eyes glanced in my direction, and then back to some apparently riveting paperwork.


Beyond him in the hold I could see one solitary hard-case. I turned and made my way back to the cockpit. Okaaaay… this might be better if it IS a short flight!


Mac and his team pushed the aircraft back and then gave the OK to start. I began running through the checklists. Would have been a lot quicker if there had been two of us in the cockpit, but I could manage, and still get us in the air on time.


Generators on, Avionics on, Inverter set to Gen, ECS on, Environmental controls… maybe I should set it to hot to thaw out Mister Happy in the back..? Cabin lights set, Camera…. Camera? Since when does a PC-12 have a camera? Suddenly it twigged. I remember reading an article about how the military used civilian aircraft for reconnaissance in West Africa, and judging by the ‘client’ the real purpose of my charter started to fall into place like a heavy iron portcullis. No time to worry about that now. Phillippe had assured me this was easy money (not that I was going to see much of the cash after having to pay to get the baton back), so I was going to get the job done. I scanned the myriad of switches.. dammit, where was it? I was just about to pull out the Operating Manual when I spotted it almost hidden by the shadow from the yoke.



I taxied to Runway 03 and having got clearance from the tower, we were on our way. 05:58Z not bad going.


I’d forgotten just how much I loved the PC-12, nice smooth ride, economical, but not the most responsive. Our route would take us almost straight to Ouaga via the BKY VOR and Koudougou. As the sun started to come up over the horizon, I was almost mesmerised by it. Africa does have some of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever experienced.








My quiet reverie was cut short as I became aware of movement in the cabin behind me. I’d almost managed to forget about him.

As I turned around to get up, he appeared and handed me an envelope. It didn’t look like he was going to return to his seat until I had read the contents so, using my finger as a letter opener, I pulled out the new chart and instructions. We were to cancel our current plan mid-flight just across the border into Burkina Faso, and divert to Gaoua (DFOG). What?


[For obvious reasons I can't show his face.. Non Disclosure agreement and all that stuff]

I would rather have had a bit more time to consider the new instructions, but by the look of my passenger, he wasn’t going anywhere till I had acquiesced. Just under 5000 feet grass strip runway. OK that’ll work. The PC-12 was used to landing on less than perfect strips, but I was just a bit uneasy about straying out too far off the beaten track, particularly after the unrest in the country exacerbated by recent events in Ouaga. Guessing that ‘Uncle Sam’ wouldn’t want any harm to come to their plane, cargo or my passenger, I turned round in my seat. “Okay. I’ll contact ATC and change our plan. Gaoua appears to be unmanned so I hope the ‘natives’ are on our side!” “Good”, he replied curtly, “they’re expecting us”, and with that he turned and strode quickly through the cabin to his seat at the rear.


ATC didn’t seem too bothered by my request to go off my track. Maybe this wasn’t such an anomaly to them after all, but as we neared the airfield, I did 3 wide circuits to see if I could see any activity that could endanger the flight, but to my relief, it was relatively quiet.

We touched down with plenty of room to spare, and I taxied to a small clearing and shut down the engine, just as a group of vehicles and a truck approached.
My passenger instructed me to remain in the cockpit until some additional cargo was loaded. What cargo, I wondered, but then reminded myself that having plausible deniability was preferable in this type of situation! The rear cargo door was opened and the black suitcase removed, then a team transferred two wooden crates from the truck into the hold. I was about to get up to supervise when my mysterious passenger came back up the stairs and handed me the cargo weight and balance sheet, and a new route. Okay, good news was that we were going to Ouagadougou, the not so good news was that we now had to take a roundabout route to the West to get there.
Knowing that any protestations would fall on deaf ears, I programmed all the manual waypoints into the GPS, and did a quick external inspection. I was nearing the left wing when I caught sight of the external camera which had me perplexed that morning.




Sophisticated stuff, I mused. If modern satellites can spot something the size of a shoebox from orbit, this beauty could pick out the small print of a newspaper from several thousand feet. Our route took us close to some of the smaller strips to the left of Burkina Faso, so perhaps they were monitoring local movements and looking for potential hostilities. One thing was made quite clear in the instructions; we had to fly well below the cloud layer, which meant less than 4000 ft. and we would have to be fast. No problem, I thought to myself, I’d rather be done with this job, on the first flight I could get to London, and enjoying my beverage service.


Checks done, I started the engine, taxied to the end of the field and was airborne before getting two thirds down the runway. The Pilatus climbed easily, and soon we were on our way again.



There seemed to be very little out here, just miles upon miles of parched ground, clumps of trees, and small settlements, but I didn’t fancy taking any chances so I descended to 1500ft and hoped that anyone with a SAM in their arsenal wouldn’t have time to lock onto me at this height and speed. The camera would pick up any camps or unusual vehicle movements.


We left our last waypoint in the distance and I climbed up to 3800 ft. for the remainder of the flight.


We were back on our way to Ouagadougou when the Low fuel lights came on the CAWS panel. Just under an hour of fuel left in the tanks which was fine as long as I didn’t have to spend most of it in a holding pattern waiting for a landing slot.


I called ATC and requested a direct to DFFD. The mere mention of our call sign 'Janet 101' was enough to spur them into action.


Landing checklist complete, flaps down, camera off and retracted, gear down, three green.


On approach to Runway 04L I was a little high. The PC-12 might go up like a rocket, but she was in no hurry (unlike me) to get back on terra firma.




“Janet 101, Ouaga Tower, turn off at the third taxiway”. “Third Taxiway, Janet 101”, I replied. We were heading for the military end of the airport and the end of our journey.


Slowly we turned into the parking area behind one of the huge hangars, where I was marshalled into position.


I had barely shut down the engine when my passenger had opened the cabin door, descended the steps and motioned for the ground crew to unload the cargo. I didn’t bother to try and stop him.. better he was out of my hair anyway. A man I took to be the ramp manager stuck his head into the cockpit to inform me that a car was waiting to take me to the main terminal where I would need to present my passport and travel documents, clear customs etc. He also reminded me of the non-disclosure agreement I had signed in London when Phillippe had first secured my services, so no mention of the purpose of our trip should be shared with the authorities… like I needed a reminder! I finished off the shutdown procedure as quickly as I could, grabbed my travel case, checked that the baton was still safe and sound in my flight bag, and followed him out. 


Having completed all the formalities and had my passport stamped, I went out into the terminal area. I could really do with a JD, but lukewarm Diet Coke from a vending machine would have to suffice for the moment.


I’d waited almost an hour in the terminal for John, and was starting to worry that he hadn’t managed to get out of Bouake, when I was almost knocked off my feet by the very man I was there to meet. Before I could open my mouth to utter a word, he had caught my arm to steady me, and looking me straight in the eye he began “I’m terribly sorry, I should have been looking where I was going. Are you alright?” I was about to chide him for not recognising me, when his pleading eyes warned me not to. A burly man with a bad haircut and five o’clock shadow walked briskly up to him, and told him to hurry up. By the looks of the situation, John was not there by his own free will. Who was this goon that was with him? What had John got himself into now?

John apologised again and walked off with the goon to the small café at the end of the terminal. Watching them go, I was completely dumbfounded. He’d obviously wanted me to know he was there, but to keep me safe from whatever he was mixed up in. I put my hand in my jacket pocket to grab my mobile and text Joe when I felt a slip of paper. I recognised John’s almost copperplate handwriting immediately. Hide the baton in the side pocket of your flight bag, leave it at lost property, and get out of the country now! Be safe. JG

I went into the ladies’ rest room and changed out of my uniform, putting on jeans and a sweatshirt, tied my hair up and took off all my makeup. Thoughts ran through my mind: Who was the goon? Was John being held hostage and the Baton was John’s only bargaining chip? Should I trust John, or just take the baton with me and wait for someone else from the hangar to arrive? Should I find my own way to Menaka?


After fighting with my conscience, and concluding that John was a master of getting out of every bad situation, I formulated my plan which would work even if John couldn’t make it back to Lost Property. First things first, I needed to blend in with the rest of the airport passengers, and quickly. I removed my personal papers from the flight bag, left the charts, and then pulled out the owner label inside the flight bag lid, and wrote Joe’s office its number, and the postcode of the Hangar on the slip. At least if John couldn’t get the bag himself, it would find way back to Mutley’s, albeit later than planned (or at least I hoped it would, or Joe would never let me fly another leg).


Walking over to the lost property desk, I addressed the assistant “Hi. I think a pilot has left this in the toilets by accident”. “Of course” the woman replied, “could you please open it?” I pulled open the lid confidently and tipped the bag at an angle so that she could see it contained flight charts and nothing remotely dangerous. She spotted the address tag, and with a (relieved) smile, she closed it and placed the bag on a metal rack behind her. “We’ll take care of it. I’m sure the owner will want it back”.

Walking back through the terminal, trying to avoid the café area, I sent a text to my husband letting him know I was safe and was catching the first available flight back. I started to type a message to Joe then stopped mid text... I’d give John as much time as it took me to fly home, to get things back on track, before I broke the news to Joe and Mikael. I hoped that I wouldn’t live to regret my decision.

I walked briskly over to the Ticket desk… I didn’t care how I got home but I would pay the upgrade to Business Class myself, just to sleep on a plane going back to London. Time to flex the credit card again..



FSX Acceleration

Rex Essentials & Overdrive

Flight 1 Pilatus PC-12

FS Dreamteam GSX

Ultimate Traffic2




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Hi, Steph!


A great PIREP, excellent yarn, and terrific photos — you've done the baton proud!     :D


I was much impressed by your setup for John in his next escapade (no doubt from gaol to gaol again   ;)   ), but your whole account was gripping from start to finish. Many congratulations and thank you — I very much enjoyed reading it.    :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:





a.k.a. brian747


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Terrific PIREP. A very very nice job of moving the baton and the story line along with style (Love that plane...and the writing was good too :)  :thum: ), and you left a nice cliff hangar for J.G. to climb his way out of.


Cheers, hope you got some sleep on the ride back.


P.S. Joe has never offered to reimburse the ATWC charter flight I had to put on my CC...good luck with that. :hat:

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Hi Steph, you'll find that seat upgrade already waiting for you. You deserve it after all that!


I really enjoyed your PIREP, great reading.


Hope you can make another flight in the Challenge :thum:  


@CC I know I never offered, but I noticed the flight was on the card statement anyway :D   

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You've really picked up the spirit of the ATWC in no time Steph, mighty fine PIREP once again! And the screenshots aren't to shabby either ;)


I do feel like I need to up the ante as far as my storytelling goes in the future though ;)


As for Johns predicaments I'm sure he'll manage even though I haven't been able to get hold of him since our last contact.. I'm sure he's fine!!! 

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You've really picked up the spirit of the ATWC in no time Steph, mighty fine PIREP once again! And the screenshots aren't to shabby either ;)


I do feel like I need to up the ante as far as my storytelling goes in the future though ;)



Thanks Mikael.. it was a bit of another epic; sometimes I can't stop myself once I start :whis:


No doubt I'll get 'writers block' at some point and bore the socks off the lott'a ya. Its just a matter of time!   ;)

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Thanks for stitching me up, an awesome continuation of my story, and one I will have a lot of fun worming my way out of!




Ah yes, sorry about that, John...

.. but I have every faith that you'll 'Houdini' yourself out of this one.

Looking forward to reading your post

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