In the next part of his Colombian aviation series, Paul Filmer returns to Villavicencio to fly aboard a Selva Antonov An-26 for the first time.
The next morning we presented ourselves to the Selva office, just across the road from the terminal, while the rest of our group gathered for their 30 minute DC-3 flight. As mentioned in the previous article, only five of us went out on a limb to fly on the Antonov An-26. Our flight was to be much longer, at least a couple of hours, to the Venezuelan border with a couple of other passengers and a load of freight.
First we had to be weighed with our bags so the crew could perform weight and balance calculations, much like smaller aircraft or during the glory days of flying.
Formalities done, our passports were kept by the co-pilot for paperwork at the destination, and then we were led out to the ramp via the security gate on the road onto the ramp, and not via the terminal.
Our aircraft was still being prepared so we were allowed to hang out while the DC-3 was loaded and started up, with the remainder of our group alighting.
An-26 HK-4388 was now ready and we were led up the rear loading ramp and onto the aircraft. It was split 50/50 with seats at the front and space for cargo at the rear.
Finally I was to fly on the elusive An-26!
It was a grey morning but we soon climbed above the clouds and were treated to a green scenic view of the Colombian countryside. Even close to the cities, this is the greenest country I’ve been to with all vegetation seemingly growing huge naturally, but outside the cities, it’s just a mass of green everywhere!
After two hours and five minutes, we made our descent into Puerto Carreño Airport.
On exiting we were greeted by a soldier with a machine gun, a reminder that rebels are still an ongoing issue in these less populated areas.
We were free to wander around for a while, but it was so hot that we chose to hang out where we could see any action on the airport airside.
Soon we were asked if we’d like to look at the control tower. Well, why not?
It was small and old, but the controller explained that a new tower was being built very soon. We could see the Venezuelan border from here, but it was just too far away to walk before our flight was due to return.
Our co-pilot eventually came back and handed back our passports and then mentioned that we’d be making a technical stop on the return journey. Who are we to argue?
The next sector was just us and a small amount of freight, which allowed us to explore the cargo hold while we were airbourne.
After 50 minutes we started a spiral descent into our mystery destination and, after a 360 degree turn, we discovered we were on final approach to a dirt strip.
The airfield, we later found out, was Cumaribo, and this area used to be an ex-FARC stronghold. Apparently this was a military controlled airstrip, but we saw no sign of any solders. There was just a single Cessna 182 parked up on the red dirt and a small open shed that doubled as the ‘terminal’.
Some locals came out to unload the aircraft and my guess is this is the air-bridge for the local indigenous village. There are upwards of 38 indigenous reserves in this area.
We were free to wander around but stayed close to the aircraft as the cargo was being unloaded. Our co-pilot told us we had plenty of time, but five minutes later herded us up stating, “We need to go now!”, pointing at a huge building storm.
Two young girls boarded with babies, I would guess they were going to a larger hospital for check-ups, compliments of the government.
No sooner were we all onboard the crew started the aircraft and taxied to the end of the runway, taking off without delay. Watching the ground go by we were airbourne with only approximately ten feet left of the runway, no doubt kicking up the dust as we went.
Another uneventful flight of an hour and ten minutes with beautiful scenery and we were soon back at Villavicencio, where we said our goodbyes to the crew before being allowed to wander the ramp again.
All in all, an excellent day where we were so glad we’d strayed from the main group. Four hours and five minutes flying in an An-26 – heaven!