Many of the “airports” in Africa are grass strips.

Crash-Landing in the Middle of Nowhere

April 18, 1998, Djibouti, Africa — As we load into the cab outside the hotel at 6:30 a.m., the sun is just boiling up above the eastern horizon. By the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti is hot and wet all year round, perched on the Horn of Africa. Geographi­cally sandwiched in the eastern Sahara between Eritrea, Ethio­pia, Somalia, and the Gulf of Tadjoura, it is so hot so much of the time that the French Foreign Legion does its hot weather training there.

The ride to Djibouti/Ambouli Airport over half-paved roads seems interminable, and by the time we arrive at 7:15 a.m., the temperature is already pushing 38 degrees Celsius. Humidity is so intense, it’s almost like walking through a fine sprinkler. Fly­ing weather is what passes for clear; a haze that rolls in off the gulf and lingers nearly full time.

When we arrived last night, we had the huge ramp to ourselves. Overnight, a giant Russian Antonov AN-124, then the second-largest airplane in the world, arrived and now shadows our tiny Piper Lance. While the fueler begins to manually wobble-pump 100 octane (we hope) into our tanks from a trailer, I walk over to the behemoth and climb the ladder to the Antonov’s cockpit to see if the flight crew has any weather for the flight south. The air­port’s weather office had only satellite photos. Sadly, the captain’s English is little better than my Russian, so we mostly smile a lot, then shrug, shake hands, and part company.

This is the 14th and final leg on our 10,000-nm trip from Santa Monica, California, to Nairobi, Kenya. We departed California on April 7, flew diagonally across the U.S. to Bangor, Maine, on to Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, delayed for two days to avoid blizzard conditions in Greenland, then made the jump to Reyk­javik, Iceland, with a quick fuel stop in Narsarsuaq.

The rest of this article can be seen only by paid members who are logged in.
Have a website login already? Log in and start reading now.
Never created a website login before? Find your Customer Number (it’s on your mailing label) and register here.
Still have questions? Contact us here.

Learn More Here

Excerpted from My Sky: The Flights And Times of Bill Cox by Bill Cox. © 2020 JP Media LLC. All rights reserved. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Purchase your copy at