Annette Porter, producer of the documentary following Tracey Curtis-Taylor on her epic flight from Cape Town to Goodwood in England, reports that with the exception of Libya, the intrepid aviatrix has been able to faithfully follow the flight path of Mary Heath.
She took off in a vintage Boeing Stearman from Cape Town International Airport early in November aiming to land in England in December and on day 34 found herself in Egypt.
Porter wrote that security has always been a primary concern regarding Curtis-Taylor’s flight.
“It’s always tricky assessing the security of a location, but by pooling our resources and taking stock of the situation all along the way, we took the decision to push on through South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt regardless and were wonderfully rewarded for our decision. It was a magnificent journey and, with the exception of a small re-routing to avoid a hot spot in South Sudan, one without any security issues.
“Libya proved to be a different story.
“Libya was always one of our chief concerns and on the back of a briefing Tracey had with representatives from the MOD last summer, we had already decided to keep filming to a minimum throughout the country and to overnight with the airplanes in Benghazi as that was considered the only relatively safe location in the area.
“Unfortunately, everything we have heard or read about Libya over the last month has led us to the conclusion that the situation there has gone steadily downhill and indeed, seems to be further deteriorating almost daily. From the security detail of the Argentinian Embassy, to news producers, to security advisory companies and high-level government representatives, the message has come through loud and clear – Libya is on an extremely dangerous downward spiral.
“Targeted killings, revenge attacks, gun battles and kidnappings are all on the rise. Heavily armed militia, some riding in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and rocket propelled grenades, are active throughout the country and in many parts of the country, the militia appear to be the main power brokers.
“The last thing we want to do with such a large, slow-moving footprint as ours is fly into a situation that experts describe as at best ‘fluid’ and at worst as a ‘lawless country on the brink of a civil war’. And so, we have decided not to travel through Libya.
“Our new routing is not without its own difficulties however. By ruling out Libya, we also rule out Tunis and the short crossing of the Med.
“Having crossed the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo, Mary Heath made the decision to carry on along the coast of Libya and Tunisia, in large part because of her fear of crossing the water. Leaving from Tunisia she had a water-crossing of only about 90 miles.
“From Marsa Matruh in Egypt, where we are today, Tracey is looking at a water crossing of 300 miles – over the Mediterranean to Crete. In preparation, she’s dug out her life jacket from the locker of the Stearman and we’ve moved the life raft up from the belly of the Caravan chase plane.
“With no alternatives over the water, she needs a situation with headwinds of no more than 20 knots in order to safely make the crossing and the days are noticeably shorter now, so the window of opportunity may prove to be small. Early thunderstorms prohibited taking off this morning, but conditions sound like they may improve tomorrow.
“With a little help from the weather gods we hope to greet you from the EU tomorrow.”
To date Curtis-Taylor has flown 5 758 nautical miles, with her longest leg a distance of 339 nautical miles. She still has about 130 nautical miles before the final landing at Goodwood racecourse.
She is following in the footsteps of Mary Heath, the first woman in Britain to receive a commercial pilot’s licence and, in 1928, the first man or woman to fly solo from South Africa to the United Kingdom.