After landing we were directed to a giant ramp in the middle of the airport and parked next to an Airbus. We shut down and were immediately confronted by an airport official speaking really quickly in Spanish. Clearly they were not used to small planes at Lima international airport. But there we were, they had to deal with us.
Now what? We were glad to have landed safely. It was hot and we didn’t know what to do next. Find a mechanic? Are there any piston mechanics here? We started researching general aviation companies that might be at the airport and looked for contact details for them. One place didn’t answer their phone, the other had an email address that we tried.
The airport man came back and confirmed that a company called ‘ATSA’ was our only option. We had to wait for taxi clearance to get there and follow a red truck. Finally that permission was received and we were on our way to a large open hangar on the other side of the airport. We asked around about a piston engine mechanic, all of the planes parked there were turbines, one guy said that he had ‘some’ piston experience.
We talked about the engine troubles and he agreed to help diagnose the problem if he could. We looked at various parts of the engine but nothing jumped out as the obvious culprit. He didn’t have the proper tools to perform a thorough check. Well we couldn’t continue on without figuring out the problem and fixing it. This was going to be difficult in a country with very little general aviation infrastructure. We figured out a place to spend the night, unloaded what we needed from the plane, and left Emcinco behind.
Sara was pretty pretty shaken up by the whole ordeal. It wasn’t long after getting settled at a hotel that she developed stomach issues. Maybe it was food related, maybe stress related. She just wasn’t feeling very well.
Some good news came our way in the form of a free hotel stay for a few days. Around Christmas time we had sent out a group email to all of our friends and family giving them an update of what we were up to. We heard back from lots of people. A friend of ours, Jesse, offered to gift us a stay at a nice hotel with all of his loyalty points that he earned through his job. It was time to take him up on his kind offer and he booked us a room for a few nights. It was nice to know that we had a place to stay and that in turn allowed us to focus on the solution to the engine issues.
This was a really tough time for us. We had all sorts of stress and emotions running wild through our heads. We kept returning to the fact that we were glad to be on the ground and that we were safe. Machines can be repaired, they can be disassembled and shipped home in a container, they can be sold. We had been traveling for nearly 7 months non-stop. Travel fatigue had settled in and made it much harder to sort through a complicated problem in a foreign country where were didn’t speak the language.
I Skyped my mechanic back home and started working on a thorough plan of diagnosis and repair. We ruled out the systems one by one. I went back to the airport and looked at the ignition system and emailed photos back to the mechanic.
About 50 kilometers south of Lima was a small private airport with a little flight school and charter company. They had a few piston powered airplanes there and surely they would know how to maintain them. I called them out of the blue just in case they could help. Turns out the guy spoke English and he knew a mechanic in the Lima area with some tools. I met the mechanic at the airport and we went performed a few checks that would rule out some possibilities and narrow it down. The mechanic had to get all of his tools through security then I met him at the hangar and we started to look at various components. First thing was to do a compression check and verify the internal cylinder health of the engine. The compression numbers came back fine. That wasn’t the problem. Next we checked the timing and that’s where the first sign of trouble showed up. The timing was off and the points weren’t opening and closing in the correct sequence. This in turn leads to improper ignition and that could have led to our power loss. So now I had to figure out what to replace and how to get the new parts down to us in Lima.
After more consulting with the mechanic back home, as well as talking to other people, we decided to order a new set of magnetos and a new ignition harness for the engine. The logistics of getting this stuff to us in Lima was the next hurdle. We had been in touch with some friends back home who have access to discounted airfares on the airline they work for. Bill, also an airplane mechanic, said that he might be able to bring those parts to Lima for us. This could be amazing if we can just figure out the details.
By this time Sara was still not feeling well and showed no signs of getting any better. There was nothing she could do to help the maintenance situation, she was mentally and physically drained from the stress of the past few days and she was ready to go home. This was a very difficult decision to make and emotional for both of us but we decided that she should hop on an airline and fly home. She didn’t want to abandon the trip at this stage, she wanted to go all the way home with me. But we had to be realistic, maybe this was the best choice to make at this stage albeit a tough one.
We jumped into a taxi and took her to the airport for the night flight back to the states. There I was, with a broken down airplane in one of the most difficult countries for general aviation and I’ve lost half the crew. It was a sad and lonely drive back to the hotel that night.
What do I do next?
Miles to date: 9900 NM