So today I was truly blessed as I was given a chance to see Yap from a different perspective; by air! One of our local counterparts (Margie) arranged for a 30 minute flight around Yap with Pacific Missionary Aviation (PMA). The purpose was to obtain aerial images of recent burn areas, assess the condition of coastal mangroves and identify any new areas of the invasive grass imperata. Since the plane was small there were only 3 available seats after those taken by folks from local agencies. My colleague Reed Perkins was extremely gracious and recommended that I take one of the seats and through a suspenseful drawing I was joined by lucky students Jocelyn and Erin.
Upon arriving at the airport and the PMA hanger we found legendary Micronesia ecologist Margie Falanruw, her intern E.J., Ryan (an ex-patriot working with Ag
and Forestry) and Amos (our pilot) looking over a map of Yap and plotting our flight plan. Soon thereafter Amos brought out our plane (Beechcraft. Model: 65-B80). Since Margie was going to be in a special spot in the rear (no seat, but an unobstructed view to take pictures) she had to be equipped with a harness and strapped into place. Next, Margie’s intern E.J. and I took seats facing each other next to a window that was open for taking pictures and video. Although I brought a camcorder and camera I decided I would take mostly pictures as I noticed E.J. was going to use a camcorder on the flight. Next, Erin and Jocelyn took seats on the other side of the plane (with windows!) and Ryan became the co-pilot taking a seat next to Amos.
The first rush of adrenaline came when Amos yelled out “Clear! Left Side!” and turned on the left engine. Soon thereafter the right engine was roaring and we were ready to go! We taxied onto the runway and took to our position ready for take-off. After Amos methodically went through his preflight checklist he turned backed and asked if we were ready. After a quick nod by all of us we were roaring down the runway and soon thereafter we were up in the air. I found myself stuck trying to decide whether or not to take video or pictures to document the experience (ultimately, I took more pictures than video). Since I was sitting next to an open window I was clutching to both my camcorder and camera as it would have been quite embarrassing to drop either one! It didn’t take long to reach our max elevation which was around 800-1000 ft. As we flew around the island I found myself in awe! The island is GORGEOUS from the air and I quickly obtained a
whole new view and appreciation for Yap. We circled around the southern tip to get some pictures of the new Charlotte Catholic High School and then moved up the western edge of Yap. Although we were on the western edge, since I was on the right side of the plane I was able to obtain coast to coast pictures of Yap. Again, simply AMAZING! We saw it all, mangroves, the lush green canopy and forests in the south to the open savannah (and even some bare soils) to the north. We even had a chance to take some amazing photos of Rumuung which is known as the “Forbidden Island”. It is the one portion of Yap only accessible by boat as there are is no bridge or road into or through the island. Not only did we get a unique view of the island but we also saw the reefs around Yap in a whole different way. Again, we saw it ALL! About 30 minutes after take-off we were approaching the runway ready to land and before we knew it, we were on the ground! When all was said and done I had collected about 220 pictures! Although I will enjoy going through these photos, ultimately, they will be used by local agencies and scientists as a tool to better manage and facilitate their natural resources. Just another amazing day on the island of stone money!