"The Twin Otter is the safest plane in the world," Captain Yap told my children and I as we listened to him with rapt attention. Capt Yap had flown more than twenty years and thousands of hours in the skies of Sarawak. At a young age, he married a great Foochow girl from Sibu. And from Truth Lane* (Chin Li Duo in Foochow) too. How small our world can be.
Why Twin? This Canadian success has a twin engine and was a spin off from a bush plane. The two engines offer increased passenger safety and confidence.
De Havilland (Canadian company) had realized as early as the mid fifties that the Otter needed to be replaced by a twin engine craft for safety reasons and for payload increase, but they were reluctant to part with any of the STOL qualities that made the plane successful with bush operators. They had to wait for suitable engines to be developed, and with the appearance of the 500 shp Pratt and Whitney propeller turbine from United Aircraft of Canada in the late '50s, the idea became more feasible. The new Twin Otter was first test flown in 1965 on May 20th, 1965, by Robert Fowler and A. Saunders. Deliveries began in 1966, and production continued for 22 years and through three production versions.
The Twin Otter can be found around the world in jungles, deserts, mountains, the Arctic, and anywhere where rugged reliability and short-take-off-and-landing capability were required. Twin Otters could be fitted with wheels, skis or floats, and in the Arctic, they're sometimes flown on "tundra tires" -- huge, low-pressure balloon-tires that can operate on and off soft, boggy ground. Its versatility is demonstrated by the fact that the largest fleets assembled were in tropical Indonesia where 19 planes flew for the Merpati Nusantara Airlines, and in frigid Norway where 12 airplanes serviced remote strips on the North Coast. It was well liked both by operators and passengers, the former for the easy maintenance offered by its fixed undercarriage, and the latter with the short, easy and anxiety-free landings.
In a report, it is stated that the timeless Twin Otters continue to be bought and sold today, with resale values twentyfold that of their original price tags. It is not only a Canadian success story but an international one.
Today Sibu can be reached by land, sea and air and it is developing into quite a tourist centre, fifty years after Sarawak gained its independence from the British Rule. In order to fly to small towns, the Rural Air Service of Sarawak provides an important service to the rural people of the state and reduce some of their difficulties. The Twin Otters are their carriers for this significant and heart warming service.
If we fly for example from Sibu to Marudi, which is considered a rural air route, we will be flying alongside the amazing, attractive,smiling and friendly rural indigenous people of Sarawak who might be wearing their head bands with beads. Packed into the Twin Otter, which can deliver 19 people, the passengers can safely land in a small air strip like Ba Kelalan too, another rural air hub and tourist destination.
Furthermore it is good for short journeys. But I don't understand why it is only for the rural air service in Sarawak. I was once in a Twin Otter and I considered it my most romantic and beautiful air ride.The plane simply glided over (just barely inches actually) coconut palms and then all of a sudden the plane landed neatly at the Mukah airport. I saw the beautiful glittering sea and the lovely isolated kampong houses. The sago palms looked just so neat,green and pretty below! Life was full of simple fun at that time because we could just buy a ticket at the old Sibu airport and then fly to Mukah at a moment's notice.
What was really unique was that you have to be weighed too. A special scale was used for people and then your luggage would be weighed by another scale. I have even heard several years ago that a bag of sugar would go first to Bario, an important air strip, before a passenger. If there were no seat available, the passenger had to wait for the next flight. Sugar was an important commodity in those days to the rural people. I am wondering if this is still happening. Perhaps there should be a special cargo plane for Bario now that Datuk Idris Jala is CEO of MAS.
I was always impressed by the patience of the MAS counter attendants who took special care of their rural passengers,and they were indeed humourous about every item of the luggage of the passengers, including a few prized fighting cocks, a small monkey or even a goose. Most Foochows would travel with a bag of goodies pressed into their hands by warm hearted relatives. Inside the plane,w hich might be very hot, the passengers would take out their snacks, drinks and whatever, and might even share them with their fellow passengers!!
I have flown with an old illiterate Hakka woman who insisted that I must eat her dumplings,between hand gestures and the horrible Foochow - Hakka, if there is such a generic dialect, that I spoke. On another occasion I sat next to an old Iban soldier who showed me his tattoo and his new leather boots. In Marudi, in 1974, my friend from Sibu, waited for me right at the door of the plane!! It was such a warm welcome which I would never forget in my life. Taking a flight in a Twin Otter may give you a sense of a time warp. You might feel that you are frozen in a special time period in history. It could be just 1950 or 1960. So deja vu. Always on a Twin Otter.
A few years ago,I was on another rural air flight,when a student/friend waved good bye to me and tapped the window of the plane before the Twin Otter engine started!! I put my hand on the window pane and he humourously placed his hand there too.As our plane taxied away, I caught a glimpse of him cycling away and then giving me the last wave. I had mentored him well in the traits of a good hearted teacher. Very high EQ and SQ. But this kind of life experience can only happen in a small rural town, with people with golden hearts, and perhaps with a Twin Otter!
If all air travel can be as simple and interesting as the Twin Otter it can be really a dream! If I had a fortune, I would travel in the Twin Otter to the ends of the world.
Live simply, so others could simply live.
* Truth Road or Truth Lane used to be a lively road /lane(?) which was opposite the Sibu Post Office and sort of behind the Police Office along Kampong Nyabor Road. I have a feeling that it is all gone due to the development of big shop houses in that area. One of the first piano teachers of Sibu had her piano teaching classes in a wooden house there. The road was called Truth Road because a small Christian Church called the Truth Church was sited there. I often wonder what happened to that church.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Memoir by I Am Sarawakiana at 11:50 AM