A flight from Norway to Chile carrying a Dornier 228 through all kinds of climates and scenarios showed the Chilean company Corpflite the reliability and versatility of the plane.
By Santiago Rivas
In 2011, the Chilean company Corpflite had decided to add a Dornier 228 to its fleet with which it mainly provides services to mining companies in the difficult terrain of the Andes Mountains. After searching the market, they found a plane available in Norway, belonging to the Lufttransport company, which was located in the north of that country. Germán Ribba, head of Corpflite and pilot, quickly understood that, in order to take the plane to Chile, they had to cross a very cold region and operate in airports with ice, so they needed instruction to be able to do such operations. “In Chile, a myth had been generated around square-body airplanes, that they were very bad for snow and ice, after an accident that happened years ago a CASA plane that was lost. I always argued with Ricardo Schäfer (company pilot) that he told me it was bad for the snow and I told him that it could not be so bad if the Norwegians operated it so close to the North Pole. I said ‘We have to go with our eyes wide open to learn and once we learn we apply’. The plane is great for snow and it is clear because if not, it would not be so north, ”explains Ribba.
Thus, Ribba and Schäfer managed with Lufttransport to validate their Chilean pilot licenses in Norway and give them a period of instruction in ice operations from Kirkenes airport, in the northeast corner of Norway, next to the Russian border. “When we started operating, the first skids were on the platform, practicing to park, to know how it behaved, it is pure power differential with the engines, the brakes do not touch them. We have to balance a lot, we learned and we flew, ”says Ribba, adding that during those flights they came to be 28 kilometers from the North Pole. “Ricardo Schäfer did have experience on the plane, but none had much experience in snow,” he adds.
Once the instruction was completed, after two months, they prepared to start the flight to Chile, leaving Kirkenes, with the assistance from Chile of Kenneth Fell, the company’s operations manager. “We did instruction and we had to take an exam before the Norwegian aeronautical entity to be able to come with the plane and be able to fly safely,” says Ribba.
The flight planning was quite meticulous, due to the extreme weather of the area where they were, although it was summer, and the long stretches over the Atlantic Ocean. “Kenneth was assisting us from Chile with all the paperwork, we were doing the planning base, assisted with a meteorological team, with a meteorologist, every night we talked and we reviewed the routes to follow, the alternatives, everything.”
The route they made began with a stopover in Batsfjord, from where they flew Tromso and then to Bergen, to start the crossing of the North Atlantic. From there they flew to the Faroe Islands and followed Reykjavik in Iceland. They then flew to Greenland, landing first in Kulusuk and from there crossing the entire island to Sondrestrom Airport, an old American air base. From that point they crossed to Canada, arriving at Iqaluit, on the island of Nunavut, in the far north of the country, from where they headed south and, after a stopover in Wabush they followed Montreal. From there they began to fly over more populated areas and with a less rugged climate, landing in Albany and then in Jacksonville, in the United States. In that last stage, crossing the whole country from north to south, Ribba remembers that they flew “almost 7 hours at 21,000 feet with oxygen, we didn’t want to stop stopping, there was too much traffic, the pilot didn’t speak practically English, so I had to Take charge of communications. There we had to do an engine inspection for hours. ” At that point they were surprised by a hurricane, which took them a week to the expected date. Later they followed Grand Cayman, Panama, Manta (Ecuador), Trujillo, Arica and finally Santiago de Chile.
“The most complex part was the circumnavigation of the Arctic circle,” says Ribba and adds: “We used an anti-exposure suit. We had a series of restrictions imposed by the aeronautical authority. Greenland does not authorize you to leave the east coast to the west if you are not in the rescue coverage schedule of the three rescue points where there are helicopters. Survival in Greenland at 40 degrees below zero is 35 minutes. You have to fly with an anti-exposure suit. ”
Because of this, when they arrived in Kulusuk, despite being in the middle of the polar day, in which the sun does not set, they had to sleep “because we could not cross into the schedules, because Icelandic planes arrived that They brought food to this village of pure Eskimos, 180 inhabitants. The town is a show, a tremendous life experience. There are only two Danes and the rest are all Eskimos. These planes arrive and for a matter of time we were queued for fuel and began to delay and delay until we no longer had time to cross into Sondrestrom. There is nowhere to stay in Kulusuk, they lent us a grocery store and kindly lent us a kettle and a jar of coffee. ” Ribba adds that that morning they had eaten bread and apples and that was the only thing they had to eat in those two days, “we had coffee with the thermos and we had to go for a walk four times during the night because we couldn’t stand the cold. There was a heating, some pipes of a heating system, but outside there were 42 degrees below zero, it was impossible to keep the temperature, you went out, you took off your hat and your hair froze outside, ”he recalls and adds:“ Fortunately the plane is He behaved amazing, he is very reliable and safe.”