In South Sudan Daredevil pilot's ordeal after crash

It was the second time he went missing during the rally -- whose exasperated organisers have disqualified him for his antics

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Veteran British pilot Maurice Kirk poses in Juba on December 6, 2016 play

Veteran British pilot Maurice Kirk poses in Juba on December 6, 2016

(AFP)
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Veteran British pilot Maurice Kirk has had his share of mishaps flying vintage planes around the world, but even his maverick mettle was tested after crashing in war-torn South Sudan.

Kirk, 71, was taking part in a rally flying vintage planes across Africa when he accidentally veered off course nearly two weeks ago, ending up in South Sudan instead of a town in Kenya just across the border.

It was the second time he went missing during the rally -- whose exasperated organisers have disqualified him for his antics: flying with an unfit aircraft and broken compass, and forgetting all his maps in a Khartoum hotel.

Stricken with malaria in the South Sudanese capital Juba, Kirk told AFP how he crash-landed in Kapoeta -- the site of violent clashes in July between warring parties in the country -- shortly after all the pilots were detained in Ethiopia for two days.

"I was headed for Lokichogio (Kenya) and I simply ran out of daylight. I think I was suffering from malaria then and I had difficulties as a pilot-in-command. And I'm afraid I scratched her a little bit," he said.

His rough landing left him with a puncture, broken propeller and other damage to his 1943 Piper Cub.

Locked up by police

Maurice Kirk was taking part in a rally flying vintage planes across Africa when he accidentally veered off course, ending up in South Sudan instead of a town in Kenya just across the border play

Maurice Kirk was taking part in a rally flying vintage planes across Africa when he accidentally veered off course, ending up in South Sudan instead of a town in Kenya just across the border

(AFP)

Kirk said he was "generally attacked" by locals when they stumbled upon him, slapping him around and herding him into the local police station.

"They put me into a cubbyhole with no water, no bucket. And they left the lights on and the flies were everywhere," he said.

"They kept me there for four or five days... And every time the embassy rang, they would stand to attention with the phone and comb their hair," he said.

Kirk has been recounting his adventures on his Facebook page, issuing desperate pleas to save his plane and get spare parts shipped to him, while detailing his severe nausea and headaches before he was transported to Juba and diagnosed with malaria.

"Malaria frightened me a lot," said the pilot who was injured in 2005 when he crash-landed in Japan on a solo bid to fly around the world in a vintage plane. He also crashed in the Caribbean in 2008.

As he struggles to get a visa to legalise his presence in South Sudan, Kirk's biggest fear is that his plane will be stripped by locals.

"I fear that because its upended, it's an ideal slide for the local children. It's very very old, it's older than me."

'The man is a legend'

Sam Rutherford, organiser of the vintage plane rally which is expected to reach Cape Town in nine days, told AFP they were still trying to help Kirk despite his disqualification.

"Nothing can be done with the plane until he is fit"- but it is likely to have been stripped before that happens... Very sad, but it's not a good place to leave an aeroplane damaged and unattended."

Despite his ordeal, Kirk says he is "besotted" with the countries he has visited in Africa.

While his maverick attitude angered many during the rally, he has plenty of fans on social media cheering him on and comparing him to adventurous aviators of old.

"Maurice Kirk is never lost, he is just occasionally uncertain of his current location. The man is a legend!" one friend wrote on his Facebook page.

Kirk, who dubs himself the Flying Vet for his days as a veterinarian, is a colourful character who parachuted into his own wedding and has also spent 20 years as a "chronic litigant" embroiled in dozens of court cases.

After sinking in the Caribbean, where he was saved by US coastguards, he landed on the Texas ranch of then US president George W. Bush in 2008 to deliver a letter of thanks, and was promptly arrested and placed in a psychiatric clinic.

After his experiences in South Sudan, Kirk is far from done with adventure.

Kirk said he plans to fly his plane "to Mexico, to President Trump's wall" to ask permission to be allowed back in the United States.

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