Smash into coconut palms or ditch into a lake? Those were the difficult choices facing intrepid adventurer Norman Surplus after cross winds blew his gyrocopter towards electricity wires in Thailand.
Fortunately the 47-year-old from Larne is an experienced lifeboat crew man so he opted for the latter — plunging himself and his tiny aircraft into water near the village of Nong Prue.
He escaped unscathed but his dreams of becoming the first person to fly round the world in the tiny aircraft made famous in the Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ — have been put on hold.
The crash, which happened last Saturday as Norman tried to take off from a landing strip in high winds, is just the latest in a long list of trials on his epic journey. He was stalled in Blackpool for a week after take- off, was forced to make an emergency landing in the Saudi Arabian desert during a storm and spent several days sharing his living quarters with a camel.
“It was a combination of factors. It was a very hot afternoon and the gyro was very heavy with fuel,” he said.
“There was also a cross wind that was blowing across the runway and it was variable so that meant it was blowing you in one direction one minute and another direction the next.
“I was trying to take off into the wind and really I didn’t get the correct amount of lift as I was flying.
“At the end of the runway there were power lines which I had to avoid and meant I couldn’t go on and set it down on the other side of them.
“I couldn’t turn right because there was a grove of coconut palms. On the other side there was a shallow lake so the best option was to try and go over the lake. We just did not have the energy in the rota to stay above the water and the aircraft tumbled over and ended upside down. I came out like you would from a canoe.”
Norman, who survived bowel cancer in 2003, set off on his ambitious adventure on March 22. Since then he has flown over 7,000 miles through more than a dozen countries including Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Pakistan.
Earlier this month he landed in Kolkata (Calcutta) setting a new record for the furthest ever flight in the open cockpit aircraft.
“I have never had an accident before so it was quite interesting,” he said.
“One second I was flying and the next thing I was upside down in the water. But once I got my head above water that was fine. The water was warm so at least it wasn’t like plunging into the North Sea or something and I am fairly used to the water. It wasn’t really that panicky — it sounds a lot more dramatic that it actually was.”
The cost of damage caused to the gyrocopter could run into the tens of thousands of pounds but Norman is confident his “Little Nellie” will take to the skies again.
“I got the gyro out of the water in about half an hour. A lorry came along and lifted it out and we had the engine running in about two hours after the event. We are still evaluating the damage,” he said.
“I hope to be able to fly on. It would be a bit of a shame saying as I have done so well. The plan of action is to take two or three weeks to get the parts from the main factory and Germany and the UK. We are also getting an engineer out to look at rebuilding the aircraft.
“I was a bit annoyed at myself for putting it into this position but if nothing else, if we get her up and running again, it will be interesting and will show the versatility of this little aircraft.
“I would be very attached to the aircraft and if we can possibly get her going we will. There is a great morale among everyone here in Thailand — I would equate it to that of a Formula 1 racing team who have crashed in practice session.”
If he succeeds in getting back in the air Norman will leave Thailand for Malaysia then will head north towards Russia opening another chapter in his gruelling record bid.