(Acknowledgements: Adrian Ryan; AIR FACTS)

This is the latest article in series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots confess mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about!

I book the aircraft and drive to Larnaca. I look at the skies and notice some dark stuff over the Troodos mountains, but it is fine and sunny and the weather report seems OK; so I file a flight plan, check out the aircraft and depart. At 3000′ I make a gentle left turn for my exit point, Mosfiloti. I look around and notice it’s getting a little murky, and there’s some dark clouds way over there to the west.

The Angel on my right shoulder whispers, “This is not the time for you to be doing this, look at those clouds!” but the Devil on my left shoulder says, “Aw c’mon! You’re only going for a short flight, you’ve got to be able to fly in this, what’s stopping you?” I press the PTT switch, “Larnaca Tower, Five Lima Oscar, request exit clearance”, which I receive. I turn for my next waypoint, and start my stopwatch. Sure enough, the large radio mast south of Tseri appears on time, and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself that things are going so well. The Devil on my left shoulder says, “See! What’d I tell you? Piece of cake!”

I orbit the radio tower, turn onto the heading for my entry point at Alampra and start the stopwatch. Within a short time there’s Alampra! I check my stop watch and think, “Wow, that was quick!”, ignoring the small warning bells that are beginning to sound.

Still feeling chuffed, I decide to head back to the radio mast and do this again; I come around to the reciprocal heading and level off. It seems to take forever to get back to the mast, and it’s now getting rather dark. I still don’t appreciate what’s happening, and I loop around the mast and find myself scudding through really dark clouds, with rain lashing at the windscreen! Time I wasn’t here, so I start to make a run back for Alampra!
Warning signs – all missed!
The turbulence is such that I’m having to fight the aircraft just to stay level. I can’t even reach the radio button to change the frequency. Another hole in the air, and I drop 300′. I’m close to panic at this point, I can’t see a thing, the rain is lashing at the windscreen, and I’m being thrown around.

Then I seem to hear my instructor’s voice, “Adrian! Don’t ever panic! Fly the damn plane, you’ve got plenty of fuel, you know how to maintain straight and level, don’t chase airspeed or altitude.” And I calm down.

During a lull in the turbulence I call ATC: “Larnaca Tower, Five Bravo Charlie Lima Oscar, Alampra at three thousand, request immediate return to Larnaca, experiencing severe turbulence and heavy rain, Five Bravo Charlie Lima Oscar.” “Five Lima Oscar, you are cleared to enter controlled airspace. Standard VFR route, maintain three thousand. Can you see the ground?” “Not very well, Five Lima Oscar.” “Five Lima Oscar, next report, Mosfiloti.” “Report at Mosfiloti, Five Lima Oscar.”

I’m at 3000′ in heavy rain, and it’s really dark. I’m frantically scanning what little ground I can see looking for the village, but I can’t really see a thing.

ATC calls: “Five Lima Oscar, report position.” “Five Lima Oscar, Mosfiloti at three thousand.” “Negative, radar has you five miles south of Mosfiloti. Can you see the ground?” “Negative. Five Lima Oscar.” “Five Lima Oscar, maintain present heading, and report passing the coastline.” “Maintaining present heading, will report over the coast, Five Lima Oscar.”

It’s really murky, and I realise now that I’m far from where I thought I was. The storm starts to abate, and it begins to clear. I think I’m well to the north east of the airport, and suddenly, there’s the coastline in front of me. You can imagine my relief!

“Larnaca Tower, Five Lima Oscar, now over the coast line.” “Five Lima Oscar turn left onto heading zero four zero, and report field in sight.” Now that’s a surprise! I was convinced I would have to turn right to head for the field. “Tower, confirm left hand turn? Five Lima Oscar.” “Affirm, turn left now onto heading zero four zero.” “Roger that, Five Lima Oscar.”

I start a gentle left hand turn onto the requested heading. The clouds have cleared, the rain has stopped, and the sun is shining, and there in the distance is the welcome sight of Larnaca airport. Feeling very chastened, I obtain clearance for a straight in approach to runway zero four, and make a normal landing.

I learned a lot from that, especially to really listen to the voice of the Angel on my right shoulder.

Tony BirthComment