As the plane touched down on Fraser Island, my trainee pilot struggled with the controls.
‘It’s stuck,’ he said, nervously.
‘I’ll take over,’ I said, as the aircraft veered dangerously towards the ocean.
It was January 2020 and, as the steering rudder on the six-seater Cessna 206 stuck fast, I kept my cool. I had no choice but to lift off again.
As we climbed, I was sure we had enough fuel to get back to Hervey Bay.
Ah don’t be silly, Gerry. There’s a perfectly good landing strip down there, I thought looking at the beach below.
So I flew the aircraft back around. But, just as I was about to line up to land, the engine juddered to a terrifying halt.
Typical! I thought.
When the steering rudder got stuck, it’d snapped the fuel lines. We had literally minutes of fuel left.
Flying is in my blood. My dad, Harry, was a pilot and had placed the controls of a plane in my hands when I was just three.
I took over running the family charter business, Air Fraser Island, from him. Over the years, I’ve cheated death more than once.
Once in the ’90s during take off, the hull of the seaplane I was flying caught on a log under the water’s surface, causing the aircraft to crash into the ocean.
Then there was the plane flown by another pilot in 2001. After both engines failed, it smashed into the ground just 80 metres short of the Sunshine Coast Airport runway. We both survived, but I had three breaks in my spine and multiple facial fractures.
So I was sure I could save us this time.
The aircraft careered through the sky, heading straight for the ocean.
‘Get ready,’ I shouted as we glided, before colliding with the water.
Waves smashed over the aircraft, as water rapidly flooded into the cabin.
‘Quick, get out the pilot’s door,’ I shouted.
But the pressure of the water had jammed it tight.
Without a moment to lose, I dived over the back seats and kicked out the back door, and swam out. But looking behind me, there was no sign of my apprentice. Bugger, I thought, panicking he was still inside.
But the production team rang soon after, explaining they really did want me to go on Channel 10 and 10Play’s Australian Survivor: Heroes v Villains.
‘I’ve never seen it,’ I said, as I hardly watched TV.
But I learned it was about completing physical challenges, and then avoiding being voted off by fellow contestants.
My son Troy, 32, was shocked. ‘Dad that’s my dream,’ he said.
Encouraged by Pam, I decided to go for it.
During my lifetime I’d broken that many bones – and I’d even run a marathon at 53 – so I was sure I was tough enough.
Filming Australian Survivor in Samoa with Channel 10 was wonderful. I was in awe of the skills of all the other players.
At 64, I’m the oldest ever Aussie contestant, but I loved competing. The younger people inspired me, but I like to think they learned from me too.
My grandkids, Harry, three, and Amelia, 18 months, love seeing their Poppy on the TV.
‘That’s you on the TV, Poppy!’ Harry says.
My next challenge is a triathlon with Troy.
You’re never too old to have a go!
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