This is not an aviation term, but according to the Concise Oxford dictionary means “the malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortunes”. Now if you are a kindly, sensitive sort of person, read only the ‘Lesson for the Month’ on the right. If however you fancy a dose of Schadenfruede, read on.
It had been a tricky journey to south west France with a low freezing level and layered cloud across the Channel, so I was rather pleased with myself when we safely arrived at Limoges in the mid-afternoon March sun. I was a bit put off by being asked to park on a stand at the far end of the field, well away from the usual GA apron.
I was even more put off to see a bevy of people marching across the parking headed by a burly policeman who, as is usual in France toted a large pistol on his hip. I was even, even more put off (not grammatical but you know what I mean) to observe that the rather scruffy chaps in jeans and singlets were also armed.
No one pulled a gun as I got down and greeted them with a warm “Bonjour messieurs”. The policeman (brigadier) informed me that he had been alerted by the military radar in Paris that we had flown through a prohibited zone and “Did we have a camera or video apparatus in the aircraft?” (all in French may I say!) Initially I couldn’t see the point of this especially when they emptied the aircraft and searched every piece of luggage.
I was a bit non-plussed by all this until they told me the zone in question was P28 the oil refineries at LeHavre. I was very relieved to know this because as I knew that during this segment of the flight I had been talking to the radar controller in Deauville who had given me a squawk and had acknowledged “Radar identified” (as they always do when in receipt of Flight Information Service), and had warned me of P 28 and its upper limit of 3,500 feet.
As the cloud base at Le Havre had gone up to 4000 feet I set the autopilot for a climb to this altitude and confirmed level at 3600. The controller spoke excellent English and remained in contact for the next 10 minutes. So clearly there was no problem – all they had to do was to speak to the controller at Deauville and I could be on my way. But the brigadier regretted that his instructions from Paris were that I should have to make a statement and so would I please accompany him to the commissariat. I imagined that this must be some sort of office in the terminal, so with rather bad grace accompanied him and his well armed entourage. However, I shortly discovered that “commissariat “means police station which just happened to be in central Limoges, 10 km. away through the rush hour traffic. As if this wasn’t enough we were about half way there when PC Plod asked if I had the aircraft documents and as they were still in the aircraft we turned around and went back through airport security to my isolated Cirrus.
In spite of my growing irritation I didn’t fell brave enough to comment to them that none of the policemen had their car seat belts done up for the trip into city centre. Some two hours later with the evening shadows beginning to lengthen I had completed my statement which included such critical information as my mothers maiden name and stretched to 7 pages.
Multiple phone calls for advice had been made and innumerable faxes despatched and received: I noted with dismay that I was referred to as “the English pilot who had flown through prohibited zone” with nary a mention of the word “alleged”. By now my obvious irritation had subsided and all I was concerned about was completing the journey to Perigueux before dark – although there are runway lights, the tower is not always open late in the day.
So I signed the seven pages of my declaration with a flourish and began to make for the door. But I hadn’t reckoned that they would require a statement from the primary witness i.e. my wife. The fact that she was asleep at the time did not seem relevant to my inquisitors! When I expressed my considerable irritation at this, I was told that as a concession they would permit me to have my fingerprints and mug-shots taken whilst the sleeper’s statement was taken. Thoroughly demoralised by now I only briefly considered refusal and meekly went off to join the French criminal classes.
We did complete the journey in daylight and found our very patient friend still waiting for us three hours behind schedule (to be fair the local gendarmes had been contacted to warn him of our late arrival.)