The Liberty Gazette
August 20, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: It was a Monday morning about 5:00 a.m. when a pilot began loading an airplane with containers on the UPS ramp at Ontario Airport in California. Filled to capacity with boxes and bags, the airplane departed for California’s Central Valley. The unpressurized twin-engine turboprop climbed to over 10,000 feet to cross the San Gabriel Mountains, the Mojave Desert and the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains before making an approach into Bakersfield where it would be met by a UPS truck. As the rear doors were opened an incredible stench greeted the pilot and UPS truck driver.
As the unloading process continued the foul smelling second-day-air package was finally discovered, leaking fluids on every package around it and through the floor panels of the airplane’s cargo compartment. The rewards of a hunting trip in Alaska would be left to someone’s memories – someone who packed moose meat in a box with ice, not dry ice, but the wet kind. Flying at altitude in the unpressurized cargo compartment caused the bag containing the rotten smelly water to expand like a balloon and then leak. Perhaps it was an effort to pinch a penny here or there, but failing to mark "perishable" and pay for a guaranteed delivery date meant the once-frozen package that arrived after all the feeder aircraft and trucks had left would be stored on the ramp Saturday and Sunday in 100+ degree heat.
The pilot and a mechanic cleaned and deodorized the airplane as best they could, but without success, and that is how the Beechcraft BE99 known as N12AK became known to the pilots who flew her as "Stinky."
Stinky had a sister ship – N34AK. Less than two weeks after the aforementioned incident I was flying the newly acquired red and white turboprop (still sporting the paint scheme of the previous operator, Air Kentucky) over the same route as eau de moose meat. Upon landing I opened the cargo doors, and then I saw red – red, gooey stuff that is – oozing down the sides of several of the packages, and spilling out of boxes distributed throughout the load. Without any package markings the boxes lay on their side or upside down, and whatever was inside was anybody’s guess.
Pulling aside one of 20 red-soaked boxes, the UPS driver and I opened it to find two loosely closed Tupperware containers of printer’s ink. Nineteen more boxes meant ten gallons of the stuff was leaking everywhere, seeping into the airplane’s subfloor and through joints in the outer skin. I cleaned as much as I could reach, and the mechanics did their part, but hiding away in crevasses there always seemed to be more that would streak the outside of the airplane every time it flew through rain. With the red and white paint scheme it wasn’t as obvious. But after the airplane was repainted blue and white, a flight through rain made the streaks quite noticeable, and that is how the Beechcraft BE99 known as N34AK became known as "Inky."
The tales of Inky and Stinky describe two minor, even comical incidents, but shipping undocumented hazardous material by air, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is no laughing matter. Take this old freight dog’s plea and properly mark your packages – doing so could save lives.