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August 9, 1998

Today is the day we are heading home and starting to split with our Russian counterparts.  As usual, lots of paperwork, another Russian medical, visit the controller for stamp of permission, get weather, sign weather, sign flight plan, and sign the book and write "I take decision to fly."  Nikki and I hauled a lot of baggage last night.  We are shipping boxes home.  Along the route, we received a bunch of gifts.  A lot of books.  At the airport, we fueled the Maule to the top everywhere.  Now at this point in our day, everything went to hell in a handbasket.  We did our hugging, kissing thing with Natasha, Valery, Anatoly, Rafael and the rest of the crew with the exception of the military pilots, Yuri (mechanic), Peter (engineer) and Khalide.   They are going to Euensk with us.  Khalide and I taxi out, fully loaded.   When we made our slow turn to line up, POW.  There went another tail wheel tube.  Now I know why everyone looked at our tail wheel.  Too tiny for this area.  Sitting cross ways of the Magadan runway, I was in full knowledge that I was the one who closed the Magadan International Airport for 2 hours because they didn't have any thing to help the plane of the runway.  Now on Nikki's side of the coin, she was sitting in the AN-2 with Constantine. They were preparing to leave and had the tower frequency on.  Constantine looked at Nikki wild-eyed and said "Rhonda, Boom."  He did a blowing gesture with his hands.  All poor ole Nik could think of was taking off with all that extra fuel on board.  She said her heart went up in her throat until she could get out of him "the tail wheel!"   Valery and Rafael have had a hard time understanding me.  I like to be out at the plane.  They want me to sit and drink tea while the guys fix the plane.  We finally found a little cart to put the back of the plane on and haul it off the runway.   We now had 2 tubes with holes in them.  This day just didn't have a good feel to it.  Constantine found a patch kit and read the Russian directions to Mikey.   When it looked like it would work, we sent Nikki and Constantine on to Euensk by their selves.  We would follow later.  As they were leaving, a thought hit me.   VISAS!  The hotel still had them.  Another negative!  Hotel is 60 KM away.  Rafael got on the phone, hired a taxi to pick them up and drive them to us.   Finally we get to leave.  Boy, were we heavy.  Carefully, onto the runway.  I am rally proud that no one can see my takeoffs on these crappy runways and being this heavy.  Not a pretty sight.  Climb out was slow (looked slower because of the mountains)  When we got about one hour from Euensk, we radioed for weather there.  Overcast at 200 meters.  That's about 650 feet.  Ok, it's minimums for their approach. Khalide and I got the Russian approach plate out.  Steep descent over the mountains onto the runway.  Khalide asked for an approach from over the sea.   The controller said "Good, I will make one." 

Khalide said,  "Just follow what I say. Descend into clouds"
Rhonda, " What altitude?"
Khalide,  "Oh, about, what do you say maybe 5,000 ft".
Rhonda, "5,000 will be fine"
Khalide, "Turn to 250 degrees. no 025 degrees, descend to 3,000 feet, now to 1,300 feet, turn 025 degrees, now 030 degrees, wait 020 degrees, now 025 degrees, descend to 200 meters"

At 200 meters (650 feet) no runway.

Rhonda, "Climb climb!, how fast, mountains?"

My Russian vocabulary was working overtime. S - - -, S - - -, S - - - !!!  When we tried the approach again, Khalide asked to go farther out to sea so we could get down and look.  Finally, we were turning back to the airport.

Khalide, "Go down to 200 meters, 100 meters,"
Rhonda,  "No runway, Khalide!"
Khalide, "Go down more"

Well, at about 50 feet above the water, we were out of the clouds.  Runway was ahead and looking good.   When we pulled on the ramp, there was the usual crowd, kids dressed up and the Mayor.  Before we stopped, Khalide put her head down and sighed.  I followed her lead.  I shut the engine off and there was a tap on my door.  Nikki was wrapped in Constantine's coat, freezing and white as a sheet.  When I opened the door, she broke down.  On the other side of the plane was one of the Russian pilots smiling and giving me 2 thumbs up.  They had done the same 40 minutes earlier and popped out at 300 feet.  The ceiling came down a lot before we got there.  Later, I found out that the guy at the radio (they called a controller) was giving me those great vectors by holding his head out the window and listening to the engine so he could figure out where we were.

We decided that we had put in enough for this day and just packed it in. It was a great dinner with the Mayor and 2 Constantines (military pilots), Yuri, Peter, Nikki, Khalide and I.  A great ending to a great flight.

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