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​The day I ‘saved’ Fritz Pieksma’s life

December 20, 2016


FTS Langebaanweg, 30 June 1969. Kiewiet Mare (RIP) and I were assigned ‘Brandywine’ duty for the morning (no-one ever taught us how to spell it or why it was called Brandywine).


Brandywine normally consisted of an old Land Rover, a radio, a flare gun, two bored pupes, a deck of cards, two camping stools and an old, faded issue of Scope magazine (pupes couldn’t afford the latest issue). Playboy was banned and remained a wishful fantasy back then. 

We usually parked about 15 to 20 metres from the runway, opposite the spot where the instructors (and a few lucky pupes) normally touched down, but on this day I parked right next to the tarmac. Cool pupes park close to the action. Our duties were simple: check that the incoming pupe on finals had lowered his wheels. If not, contact him on the radio. If that failed, fire the flare gun. That was Plan A. Plan B? Nope, a pupe does not have a Plan B, unless it entails members of the opposite sex or how to cheat at bridge or any other card game. 

A number of our co-pupes, including Fritz Pieksma (RIP), were busy doing circuits and bumps. Kiewiet manned the radio inside the Landy. I stripped down to my underjocks to enjoy the warm winter sun, and stretched out on my camping stool. I placed the flare gun on the ground beside me and commenced an intensive study of the well-endowed, but faded pics in Scope, my co-pupes and their wheels now a distant, fading memory. 

After about 30 minutes, I dozed off – transported into an exotic/erotic world of scantily clad, beautiful, willing young ‘ladies’ – any virile pupe’s ultimate fantasy dream.

“Shoot the flare, shoot the flare! We don’t have radio contact!” 

WTF? Kiewiet’s urgent shouting rudely interrupted my blissful sexcapade. What f… flare? Being a cool pupe, I didn’t panic. I stayed seated, opened my eyes, and through the darkened lenses of my Ray Bans, noticed an Impala on very short finals, nose slightly pitched up, flaps extended, ready for touch down – but no wheels. 

I stopped being a cool pupe. 

I, then, realised why all SAAF pilots are required to have passed matric mathematics – for situations like this at Brandywine. In a split second my brain did the trigonometry; the Imp was going to hit the deck right next to where I was sitting. If that happened, I would be neither cool nor a pupe.

45 years later, in 2013, Usain Bolt would win his sixth World Championship gold medal with a brilliant 9,77s 100 m dash in Moscow. I took one look at the Imp, one look at the flare gun, did the split-second math calculation and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. I covered the 100m away from the pending crash site in about four seconds flat! Eat your heart out Usain.

Until our ways parted four years later, the late Fritz Pieksma – the source of my ‘un-coolness’ – the wheels-up pupe, would always (tongue-in-cheek) introduce me to his friends or acquaintances as “the guy who saved my life”.

He’d seen me tanning and dozing, and knew that no pupe (especially when clothed only in his underjocks) would run unless he was either forced to or faced imminent danger. He glanced down, noticed his wheels were still up, slammed open the throttle, hung suspended in the air while the turbine spooled up, and missed slamming the tail onto the tarmac by approximately 30 cm. 

The last bit I saw – even a scared, un-cool pupe, dressed only in his Ray Bans and undies, would not want to miss a spectacular crash.

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