Airplane over Ship Landing Rock
It had been seven years since an airplane had
been seen over Pitcairn. So imagine the excitement of watching an airplane from the vantage point of Ship
Landing Rock. About 41 people were up there as David Hiser and Melinda Berg were on the
plane with Jean Ives, the pilot and another passenger. The plane circled around and over the
island for about 1 ½ hours, passing close to the people on the rocks several times. I got about 35
minutes of good video of the plane, the island, and the people as they watched the plane, enjoyed
the conversation, and/or worked on various crafts. 1/14/83
The First Air Mail
The New Zealand air force sent a C-130 to fly over Pitcairn to survey the possibilities of air-dropping a D-4 Caterpillar tractor. At the same time they planned to drop a small amount of mail.
The air drop happened about 2 p.m. We went up to Ridge Rope where a watch station had been prepared. Martha set up to take stills while I took some video of the place. Then I rode over to Jacob's place on the hill near McCoy's Valley.
I sat in their strawberry patch and videoed about 15 minutes of the plane flying over the island and got a really good shot of the drop―with the plane flying about 50 ft above the floor of Aute Valley. The leather pouch had a small parachute attached to it so as to slow its fall a little (it didn't help much).
The pouch had been so well packed that nothing inside was damaged. The mail was sorted at the post office and each piece was postmarked so that the envelope would then be valuable as being in the first air drop. The government also sent about 900 envelopes printed for first day covers commemorating the first air drop, although there will be no special stamp. These envelopes will be portioned out to the islanders so that all will have opportunities to get their share.
Martha had changed the film in the still camera just before the plane came. She unfortunately didn't get the end of the film hooked right, so she got no stills of the plane.
The Air-Drop of the D43 Caterpillar Tractor
5/30/83 I went up Dobbin to video the men as they put up a tent in which many planned to spend the night. They want to be there when the tractor is dropped tomorrow. The men had a good time horsing around as usual, but they got the work done.
5/31/83 The day dawned calm and clear, with one of the most beautiful sunrises I've seen in months. The plane made its first pass before the sun was up, but didn't actually drop anything before it was light enough to see.
I visited with Tom for a short time. He had pitched a small tent for his radio gear and was keeping up a running dialog with the co-pilot. The co-pilot was a Pitcairner, born on the island, but whose family had moved to New Zealand when he was only a boy. (I believe the man's name was Kevin Christian.)
After several passes, the C-130 leveled out at about a thousand feet and flew directly over Aute Valley. I was taking video as the plane flew towards us and followed it as it approached. Suddenly a parachute appeared out the open bay with a large form following it. I thought the large thing was the tractor, but I found out shortly that it was the main parachutes. I missed the tractor leaving the plane, but quickly regrouped and followed it down. Six parachutes billowed above us (I was told later that each was about 100 meters across―the size of a football field!) The tractor descended under its para-umbrella until it thumped onto the valley about 200 meters from us. Explosive charges that sounded like fire-crackers released the parachutes, which drifted slowly to earth at last losing their billowing form and folding into the stubby trees. The plane made a pass again to be sure that the first delivery had hit the target―it missed about 30 meters. Then the C-130 made another pass to drop the tractor cage and it's blade. Only two parachutes were used for this drop.*
Steve and his engineers gave the tractor the once-over to make sure that everything was intact. Then, after unstrapping the D4S from its pallet, Steve started the engine and drove it away.
[I learned later that the drop master had never worked with anything as large as the D4S. The NZAF sent him to the US for special training. After observing and participating in dropping several tanks he was capable of working with the D4S.]
*The New Zealand national bird is the Kiwi―a flightless bird. So New Zealanders are often called Kiwis by Australians and others. On the side of the tractor blade (from the second drop) was attached a message that read "Kiwis Fly."