In the Air with Garuda Indonesian Airways: 1951 – 1956
By Arthur Smit-Roeters
For over five years I had the opportunity to fly as a steward on board a De Havilland DH114 Heron, in addition to Catalina flying boats, C-47s/DC-3s, and Convair 240s/340s. 100 flying hours a month were the norm.
What was it like to fly on board a De Havilland 114 Heron 1? I will relate a little story of one of my many adventures on the Heron.
Pictured below is a DH114 Heron 1B (fixed gear), the aircraft I served on in the 1950s.
A Snake on Board
In the early 1950s, I was assigned to fly as a steward on board a chartered 14 passenger Garuda Indonesian Airways De Havilland Heron 1B1, with the Vice President of Indonesia, Dr. Mohamed Hatta on board. Because the plane was not air-conditioned and flew at lower altitudes, the cabin temperature stayed warm and became unbearably hot on the ground in the sweltering equatorial heat and high humidity. The plane was not designed to carry a steward and was not equipped with a galley. One could hardly stand up straight in the cabin and less so in the tail section where the improvised galley was located.
After our takeoff, I was going to prepare snacks and noticed a beautiful green-colored rope with a red argyle pattern hanging over two cold-drink containers. When I reached out to pick it up, the rope curled up and the end showed a snake’s head with a nervous split tongue. It was ready to bite me. The vivid colors indicated that the “rope” was a very poisonous snake. I could not jump up or sideways due to the confined space but, I did step back at high speed and slammed the cabin door shut. Dr. Hatta and his entourage were told about the extra passenger.
Everybody became very edgy. A fly, an additional stowaway the flight, made life in the cabin very interesting. Every time it landed on a person, that person made some extremely quick evasive movements as if the snake was on him. The perceived intruder must have moved around quickly because many people were literally sitting on the edge of their seats while swatting away at the imaginary snake, but Dr. Hatta kept his composure. In the meantime, I kept an eye on the door threshold in case the snake slithered into the cabin. That was not possible, but I needed to be sure.
Our captain changed course, back to Sepinggan (Balikpapan, BPN, Kalimantan) Airport. We landed uneventfully but, I was not brave enough to open the door to the galley. I reasoned the serpent could have grown into a dragon and I was not a dragon slayer. Meanwhile, the captain had radioed to local flight operations that we had a snake on board and asked for plane handlers to remove it.
As soon as the Heron came to a stop on the ramp, none of the ground personnel dared to open the door since the snake would probably strike at a ramp worker. After our uncomfortable flight of about 15 minutes, we were now confined for what seemed an eternity in this narrow hot aluminum tube and everybody was soaked with perspiration. A very brave person opened the outside door and emptied the contents of a fire extinguisher into the galley. The critter was stunned by this unwelcome treatment. Finally, somebody using a long stick and with enough courage, removed the incapacitated snake and we were then able to exit the plane. After our 15 minute flight, the outside air felt cool to the skin.
So there ends my adventure of a snake on the plane.
1 In 1952 Garuda Indonesian Airways ordered 14 Heron 1B aircraft to replace their 16-passenger Catalina flying boats. The Heron 1B was designed to carry 14-17 passengers, but GIA’s configuration was for 12.
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