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Missing vintage rally pilot turns up in South Sudan

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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 10, 2016 shows Pilot Pedro Langdon flying his Travel Air 4000 biplane during a photocall for the launch of the Vintage Air Rally in Shoreham, Sussex. Pilots taking part in a vintage air rally across Africa were being detained on November 23 by Ethiopian authorities, a spokesman for the trip said. BEN STANSALL / AFP

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 10, 2016 shows Pilot Pedro Langdon flying his Travel Air 4000 biplane during a photocall for the launch of the Vintage Air Rally in Shoreham, Sussex. Pilots taking part in a vintage air rally across Africa were being detained on November 23 by Ethiopian authorities, a spokesman for the trip said.<br />BEN STANSALL / AFP

A maverick 72-year-old British pilot taking part in a vintage air rally turned up in South Sudan on Saturday after going missing for a second time when the event arrived in Kenya.

Maurice Kirk is one of about a dozen pilots flying vintage biplanes across Africa, but has repeatedly run foul of organisers for failing to stick to rules and regulations and a Facebook post from organisers said that after the Kenya leg he was “no longer part of the rally.”

Kirk first went missing on Wednesday, but was later found and joined his colleagues in Gambella in western Ethiopia, where they were detained by authorities for two days over a problem with their flight permits.

While the team was released and continued their journey onward to Kenya, Vintage Air Rally (VAR) organisers announced on Facebook Friday that Kirk was a “no-show.” However, he turned up several hours later.

“Maurice is safe! We heard he had an engine failure and landed (not at an airfield) in South Sudan but had a puncture on landing,” an update said Saturday.

“Locals found him and called a Brit in Juba they recently worked for. He contacted the British embassy in Juba.”

Kirk, who dubs himself the Flying Vet for his days as a veterinarian, is a colourful character who describes himself on his blog as a “chronic litigant” who is embroiled in dozens of court cases in Britain.

In 2005 he was injured when he crash-landed in Japan on a solo bid to fly around the world in a vintage plane and in 2008 he crashed in the Caribbean.

He was rescued then by US coastguards, and to express his gratitude he later dropped in on the Texas ranch of former US president George Bush and was briefly placed in a psychiatric clinic.

While pilots of 1920s and 1930s vintage biplanes set off on November 12 from the Greek island of Crete on their 13,000 kilometre (8,000-mile) journey to Cape Town, Kirk joined on Sunday in his 1943 Piper club plane.

Aside from Kirk’s antics, the rally has seen plenty of drama.

Organisers explained in a press release Saturday that a last-minute problem with flight permits led to them being detained in Ethiopia as it was too late to inform teams who had already taken to the skies.

“On arrival, the crews had their phones and other electronics confiscated and spent two nights detained, sleeping on concrete floors without air conditioning or protection from mosquitoes (in a malaria zone),” read the statement.

“All requests for consular assistance were refused, and it was only by the use of a smuggled telephone that the VAR team were able to alert the outside world to their predicament.”


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