Thursday, September 17, 2015

French Polynesia 2015
50th Anniversary of the First Flight Connection Tahiti-Santiago

When taking off from Quintero Air Base on that winter afternoon of 27 August 1965, Roberto Parrague Singer was leaving behind him years of research, red tape and hindrances to the achievement of his old dream – to link Tahiti and Chile via Easter Island and open the route we know today.

Under the thrust of the two 1,200 HP engines, his dream was slowly gaining altitude. While turning to the right towards the Pacific, he observed the coast fading away in the distance. He was reaching 108 knots, the cruise speed of his PBY Catalina registered as CC-CNP and nicknamed Manutara II, the Bird of Luck in the Pascuan language. He then headed northwest towards Easter Island, flying into the night and oceanic immensity. That first leg was not an easy one. Strong southerly winds were bringing very low temperatures and obliged him to fly at low altitude to prevent ice accumulation on Manutara’s wings and structure. He had to face heavy rains that prevented him from regularly updating the aircraft’s position, as navigation with the Manutara II required the use of a sextant. After some 20 hours of difficult flight conditions and with only 30 minutes of fuel left, he felt deep relief when, slightly to the right, he saw the greyish contours of volcano Rano Raraka of Rapa Nui looming over the horizon.

After a well-deserved night’s rest on Easter Island, the flight to Tahiti was a real pleasure. Arriving from the south, he went past the island and followed the east coast. He flew low enough to admire the sheer beauty of Tahiti, with the window open to better smell the typical Tiare flower fragrance. The arrival at Faaa airport was quite an event.

The ceremony for the delivery of the first airmail between Chile and French Polynesia took place on the tarmac in front of civil and military authorities and a big crowd of onlookers and old friends such as Francis Cowan and Gerald Garnier.

After a week of celebration, the Manutara II took to the skies again, heading south-south-east back to Chile. This time the flight went off without a hitch. Only two years later, in April 1967, a DC6-B named Manutara III in the

colours of Lan Chile touched down in Faaa, thus opening the commercial Santiago-Papeete air service we know today. Parrague had made his dream come true.

"PBY: The Catalina Flying Boat" by Roscoe R. Creed