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Diamonds And Dust: 65 - The Barge And Helicopter

...Johnny got into the chopper, put on his seat belt and shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the take-off. The pilot noticed this so revved the crap out of the engine and jiggled the joystick a bit pretending that we had taken off. After a minute Johnny asked how we were going and the pilot said we were still climbing to get some height...

It doesn't pay to play a practical joke on a cook who is afraid of heights, as Malcolm Bertoni reveals.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

When I first arrived at Affenrucken in 1969, there was a Sikorsky helicopter that was used for ferrying personnel to the barges. The barges were used in the first attempt to mine the seabeds off the coast.

The chopper was kept in a big hanger just down from the dining room and was scrapped in about 1971. There were two pilots staying at Affenrucken at the time. One was an American, but I can’t remember the other guy. They had quite a good set-up in the hanger, although Affenrucken would have seemed like the arse end of the world to them. Around 1971, the hanger was dismantled and taken to the airstrip in town and then later moved again into town somewhere.

The barges were originally owned by a company called Marine Diamond Corporation, which mined the sea off Namibia. CDM bought out the company in 1965 and carried on marine mining for a while, but then suspended operations in 1970. This was mostly due to the lack of suitable technology and low diamond prices. De Beers started marine operations again in the late 80s.

A barge was wrecked north off Chameis Bay around 1969 and ended up high and dry on the rocks. We visited it a few times but there was not much to see.

We used to take trips in the helicopter whenever we could. Everyone except Johnny the cook who was shit scared of heights. We finally managed to persuade him to come along on one flight with us and as usual pulled a nasty trick on him. Johnny got into the chopper, put on his seat belt and shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the take-off. The pilot noticed this so revved the crap out of the engine and jiggled the joystick a bit pretending that we had taken off. After a minute Johnny asked how we were going and the pilot said we were still climbing to get some height. In actual fact we were still firmly on the ground.

A minute later the pilot cut the engines and the engine failure alarm came on.
“Fuck! We’ve lost our engine. We are now in the shit. Everyone prepare for a crash landing.”

We all started screaming in mock terror. Johnny almost crapped himself and I’m sure we could see his lips moving in a silent prayer.

The pilot fiddled with the joystick for a minute and finally said:
“Ok we’re down. You can all get out now.”

Johnny slowly opened his eyes and realised that we were in the same spot, not having moved at all and everyone was laughing.

He was seriously pissed off and made even crappier food for the next week just to get back at us.

The Helicopter pilots had their own Landrover. But what a Landrover. It was a bakkie and painted a bright red. It had enormous wide tyres so that it could cruise over sand dunes and soft sand with ease. But best of all it had a Ford 6 cylinder engine which had about twice the power of the standard Landrover engines, even though it must have chewed up fuel. The suspension, gearbox and diff had also been modified and the pilots got the mechanics to tune the beast and keep it in good condition and it really hummed along.

We used to love hurtling along the beach at 100+ kms per hour. This was living. We even persuaded the pilots to go up to the wreck at Chameis Bay a few times. We don’t know what happened to the bakkie when the pilots moved to town, even though some guys tried to keep the vehicle at Affenrucken.

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