The Liberty Gazette
July 15, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike and Linda Ely
Mike: Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones comes running over a hill, dust flying from his clothes, waving his arms and shouting, "Get going, get going"?
His pilot is fishing off the wing of the float-equipped biplane when his serenity ends. The commotion gets his attention when he sees Indy running down the hill waving at him as dozens of natives charge over the ridge after him with spears and blowguns. Startled, the pilot tosses the fishing pole, jumps into the cockpit and starts up the plane.
Indy swims out just in time to grab the float, holding on as the plane becomes airborne. Sliding in to the cockpit he is surprised by the other "passenger" and screams to the pilot, "There’s a snake up here!"
The fact that it was a pet named Reggie didn’t dilute Indiana Jones’ hatred of snakes. Makes me think of other strange cargo I’ve known.
In a recent lively discussion with fellow former freight pilots the question arose, "What is the strangest cargo you have carried?"
After nearly 15 years of flying freight at all hours of the night, I’ve flown some strange cargo. I have carried dogs, cats and frozen bull semen, which is considered hazardous material due to special shipping requirements.
I offloaded 10 to 15 boxes of live Maine lobsters in Santa Barbara every morning for a couple years. Once while sliding a box of lobsters to the UPS driver, it missed him, flipped from the plane and split open on the ground; half a dozen dazed and not-so-happy red creepy things lethargically moving about. We corralled them without injury, their huge claws were banded. Seemed strange, shipping lobsters across the country since there are thousands in the Pacific Ocean.
We flew a multi-million dollar missile guidance system from San Diego to Titusville, Florida by Learjet. A ten-man team took over an hour to carefully load it and set up monitoring equipment. The retrieval team ripped it out of the airplane in fewer than five minutes. So much for care in handling.
The pilots in the aforementioned discussion recalled similar cargo and some even more exotic - ostriches, penguins, sharks, komodo dragons, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and race horses. One of them even flew Willie the killer whale. Others said:
"A big box of hamsters. Some got out!"
"Baby crocodiles, loose, in an Brittan-Norman Islander. I figured if the croc hunter was prepared to sit down in the back with them it was OK, although some of them wound up under my feet a couple of times. I was younger then."
"A case of live bees. Of course, half of them escaped and took their anger out on the loaders."
"More boxes than you could shake a stick at on DC3. Full of WORMS. When my hearing came back after we shutdown (the noisy engines) you could hear a kind of slime noise. You think slime doesn't have a noise? Fly a million worms and say that."
Ah, my freight dog days. Stop it you guys...I'm getting all misty!