Readers, have you heard of Terumbu Layang-Layang (TLL) or Station Lima and its whereabouts? Well, it's a coral atoll in the South China Sea and a haven to scuba divers. It is about 165 nm from Labuan and the flight time by nuri helicopter is 1 hour 30 minutes.
When I was OC 5 Sqn, one of our flying duties was communication flights to TLL. These included Paskal changeover and resupply. Paskal is a unit of the RMN and stationed there. The only buildings there then were the hangar and the accommodation complex built on the reclaimed land.
The circled blue-coloured hangar shaped building was surrounded by the sea. The atoll submerged during high tide
Me and the late Lt (U) Idris at TLL. The shallow sea behind us is now the runaway
Now, there is a runway and a hotel for divers. And wind turbine provides electricity for the whole complex.
Before I proceed, let me tell you the navigational aids available in the nuri then. Aviators, don't laugh OK? Radio compass and standby compass only....!And we were required to fly into the open sea......
On a good and clear day, the flight to TLL was a boring sortie. We took off from Labuan and climbed to 3000 feet and set course on 327*. To know the location, we tuned to radio Brunei and Kota Kinabalu to get the reciprocal headings. Where the line intersect, that was the your location - just like map reading lah. For safety, we did it every half an hour. Now, even your hand phone have GPS. At about 20 nm, there you are......
Flying back, no problem at all since we were heading towards mainland. Why I was very concerned whenever I flew to TLL or authorizing the aircrew flying there? The weather. Once, when I was tasked to do comm flight to TLL, the weather was perfect - clear and sunny. Half way through the flight, thick clouds appeared in front and I had to descend to 1000 feet. Cloud base was less than 1000 feet. Descended further to 500 feet and still in the clouds and it started to rain. Finally I decided to climb to 3000 feet and headed back for Labuan. The sortie had to be abandoned. I'm no hero and that's why I'm able to share this experience...
On another occasion, I was ferrying VIPs there. The weather was perfect all the way. However, when I was at a distance where I should be able able to see the lovely emerald, there was none at all. Problem, problem...I didn't bring my international passport. You see, about 20 minutes from TLL is Amboyna Cay, the atoll occupied by the Vietnamese army. (I don't know the current situation). My eyes were scanning left and right when I saw the emerald on the left. What happened was that there was a strong wind from the left which caused the nuri to drift to the right while maintaining the set heading. I was offset by almost 20*
Now the nuri is equipped with additional navigational aids. I was told that the nuri seldom fly to TLL since C130 Hercules is now able to land there.