Pair races around the world

June 20, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

They lost power over the Atlantic Ocean, endured subfreezing temperatures when their heater broke and suffered food poisoning in India.

But now that they are home from their trip flying around the world, the Maryland couple can look back and say it was great.

David Sherrill and Nancy Law finished third out of six in their class in the Arc En Ciel Round the World Air Race. But the place of finish was almost incidental to the race itself.

In 25 days that began May 1, they flew to Canada, Morocco, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, India, Vietnam, Japan, Russia and Alaska.

"Now that I think about it, it was great," said Ms. Law, a part-time flight attendant with American Airlines who took up flying in 1990 with a goal of becoming a commercial pilot. "There was a lot of times not so great. A lot of tension, a lot of stress."

One of the most tense moments came three hours into their flight over the Atlantic when Mr. Sherrill tried to remove his cumbersome survival suit.

With little room in which to move his 6-foot, 5-inch frame, he accidentally hit the fuel valve in the cabin of their Piper Panther Navajo, cutting off fuel to the engines.

The engines stopped, but Ms. Law quickly switched on emergency fuel pumps to get them going again before the plane lost altitude.

"It was actually kind of funny," she said.

The couple had a more chronic problem with their airplane's heater. About 30 minutes after takeoff from the Azores and flying at 21,000 feet, the heater died.

The outside temperature was about minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and they were wearing short-sleeved shirts. After a few hours, they were shaking so badly they had to descend to a lower altitude to get warmer.

Competitors lent them clothing to help them stay warm, and workers at a Siberian airport contributed knee-high boots made of dog hair.

The most serious problem they encountered was a severe bout of food poisoning in Akra, India.

They awoke in the middle of the night with vomiting and diarrhea. By the next morning, they were so weak they could hardly stand.

Mr. Sherrill was able to make it to the airport and take off with the help of a co-pilot from another plane.

Ms. Law, however, was too weak to get out of bed. A doctor gave her shots, pills and intravenous fluids. She was transported to the next stop aboard another plane.

"It was the sickest I've ever been in my life," she said. "I couldn't lift my head."

Circling the globe and crossing 24 time zones, they often lost track of the hours and days. Along the way there were frustrations with fuel shortages, security checks, mechanical failures and unappetizing food.

"Every leg it seemed like something went wrong," Ms. Law said.

Although they had worked to prepare the aircraft for eight months, they still did not allow enough time for test flights.

"We just weren't ready," Mr. Sherrill said. "We didn't have enough time."

But the trip was not all bad. Ms. Law was enchanted by the camels they saw in Morocco, and Mr. Sherrill was impressed with the Taj Mahal in India. Both praised the hospitality of the people they met and the friendliness of the other racers.

Even when they were forced to fly through Iraqi and Iranian air space, the air traffic controllers were cordial and friendly, they said.

After touching down in Anchorage, they rejoiced when their hosts provided them with pizza and beer.

Neither has any immediate plans to race again. Mr. Sherrill is catching up on his work as president of Chesapeake Mobile Homes of Millersville.

Ms. Law is applying for jobs as a commercial pilot.

"I've now got a variety of experience," she said.

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