Aerolineas Argentinas is a name that I will remember for the rest of my life.. I don’t often get scared, and when I do, it seldom lasts. But, one trip home from Brazil remains the one time that I was petrified for nearly 15 hours straight.
It was in the mid 1980’s and I was still a relative new comer to excitement. Roger and I had had a very successful buying trip, one that took us from Rio Grande de Sul in Southern Brazil buying Amethysts, Belo Horizonte for Tourmalines and Ouro Preto for Imperial Topaz, not to mention Rio and Sao Paulo. We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves as we sat in the Rio Airport.
Now, anyone who has spent a bit of time at the Rio international Airport will remember well, the soft sensual tones of the recorded announcements that inform about gate numbers and flights. “Flight 357.. now boarding… gate.. 5”. After a while it can become a bit comical. We were cracking jokes as we sat and looked at the light pole, (you might remember the red and green light from a previous blog), we gathered our courage and took our turns and pushed the button. Both green again, exhilarated, we moved to our gate.
Boarding was uneventful, there wasn’t the security checks that we have to go through these days since 9/11, and you basically just walked up to the gate once you cleared immigration. Feeling quite safe, we boarded the plane and headed off to Montreal.
Brazil was, and still is a real enigma. Some of the decisions that came from their governments really made me shake my head, but there was one that I was very glad for. In the Late 1950’s, the decision came down to relocate the Capital City of Brazil. I’m pretty sure they took a map and pointed at the geographic center of the country and said “lets build it here”. At great expense and as a logistical nightmare, they cleared the land in the remote central region and build their capitol, Brasilia, there. This decision would one day save my life…
We had been flying out of Rio for about an hour when we noticed a bit of a shutter in the aircraft, followed by the captain coming out of the cockpit and looking at the left wing. A little disconcerting, but 747’s are known to be able to fly on one engine, so, no problem. About a half an hour later, the same thing happened again, but this time they looked out the right side of the plane. A little more disconcerting. Shortly afterwards, another shudder followed by a loss in altitude and I was definitely ‘disconcerted’!! Then came the announcement, we would be making a short stop in Brasilia for a minor “maintenance issue”. They herded all 300 plus of us into a standing room only waiting room while they ‘fixed’ the problem. Now, remember, we had just had one of the most successful buying trips of our careers and we had ‘a sizeable amount’ of gems in ‘various’ places on our persons. After 4 hours of standing around, they told us that the plane could not be repaired in a timely manner and another plane was being flown in to continue our flight. They would be putting us up in a hotel downtown for the remainder of the evening.
Roger and I looked at each other and thought that there was no way that we would make it through the night without being searched.. either leaving the airport or returning the next morning. But to our surprise, all they did was take our passports and told us to be back at the airport by 6:00am the next morning. So, all we had to do was to get to the hotel, sleep a few hours and get back, in the middle of the night in Brasilia with ‘a sizeable amount’ of gems in ‘various’ places on our person… No problem.
Miraculously we managed to board the flight the next morning and headed out again. It was a few hours later that one of the attendants told us ‘confidentially’ they we had lost three of the four engines on the last plane and if Brasilia hadn’t been there, we would have had to ditch in the jungle, in the middle of nowhere with ‘a sizeable’.. well, you get the picture.
The remainder of the flight was uneventful as we filled out our import forms and put all the gems in easily accessible bags and got ready for Canadian Customs, our customary task on the flight home. Uneventful that is, until we got as far as New York where they had to land for fuel, and then promptly informed us that the flight would not be continued and that we had to find our own way home. So, there we were in JFK airport, an airport renowned for it’s mob connections in the day.. with you know what. We had to decide whether we would declare the gems to US Customs or try to get them through with us on to the connection to Canada. We ended up declaring them, and had them shipped in bond to Roger’s office.. We figured it was even odds that we would ever see the stones again, but one week later, there they were…
I never flew Aerolineas Argentinas again…