by Captain W. E. Johns



V.                    VISIBILITY ZERO  (Pages 68 – 77)


Out of the rest house, a single long room with a thatched roof and earth floor, steps a white man.  His name is Simmonds and he is the assistant game ranger.  He is there to deal with a leopard that has been attacking people.  Ginger gets chatting with Simmonds and they have tea.  He is soon listening to the strange things that can happen to a man who spends his life among African big game.  “The outcome of all this was, Ginger dallied much longer than he intended.  In fact, it was only when he noticed some heavy clouds rolling down from the north-east that he looked at his watch and realised how much time had slipped past unnoticed”.  Ginger gets in the Auster and heads south.  His plane is soon overtaken by a storm and his westward drift is soon as fast as his forward speed.  Ginger had not “topped-up” his fuel tanks before leaving because in normal conditions he would have had ample fuel.  The storm gets worse and his plane is buffeted by strong winds.  “The sensation was as if he was sailing on invisible mountainous seas.  He could no longer see anything except dark grey mist tearing past, (“… He could no longer see anything except dark grey mist tearing past” is the illustration between pages 72 and 73), so he was not always sure of the position of the aircraft in relation to the ground.  Thunder boomed, drowning the drone of the motor.  Lightning illuminated the cabin with a ghastly glare”.  Ginger is scared rigid for he is aware that he is fighting for his life.  Far to the west of his course lay mountains and Ginger is so off course that “the clouds around him might be expected to have rocks in them”.  His altimeter registers seven thousand feet. Trying to radio back to base is hopeless due to the storm.  Ginger manages to avoid a dark triangular shape bearing down on him and he realises that he is in the mountains.  With his fuel down to zero, there is no hope of climbing out of danger.  He has to go down.  Ginger flattens out for a pancake landing and lifts his knees to his chin and covers his face with his arms.  He crashes into some bushes and is flung against the instrument panel.  “Panting with shock Ginger scrambled out and stumbled into a sitting position on a pile of wet moss”.  He is unscathed except for a bump on his forehead.  “It induced that almost over-whelming feeling of thankfulness that most pilots experience at least once in their careers – unless they are very lucky”.  Ginger gets back into the cabin to think things over in less discomfort.  The radio is undamaged but still of no use due to the storm.  Ginger settles down to wait and, tired out, he dozes off to sleep.