Pilot: My dream to fly crashed, but I am learning to walk again
Charles Sanga always dreamt of being a successful pilot. He tells JAEL MUSUMBA how cartels in aviation sector killed his goal
Take us through your journey to success, where did it all start?
I have always been an entrepreneur; I started my first business in Kisumu at 21 years in an attempt to raise cash for pilot training. I have run several businesses, ranging from interior décor to printing services, stationery supplies, entertainment promotion, event organising to running a small restaurant and a communications centre. Most of these skills were self-taught.
What fuelled your passion to join the aviation industry?
I was born and raised in Eastlands, Nairobi close to the Kenya Air Force Base in Eastleigh. The sights and sounds of aircraft may have lit my flame for flying. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to fly.
How was your experience when you first joined the aviation industry?
I was an entrepreneur at the time, so I learnt to fly in bits after I had raised enough funds to cover the training. Those moments were peppered by breaks, during which I worked to raise the said funds for flying. My initial training took an unusually longer time as compared to students with all the funds in hand. Flying was and is quite expensive, especially for a self-sponsored trainee. My determination, however, meant there was no backing down, however long it would take me.
How did you get to own your personal aircraft?
After flying commercially for a while, I discovered my knack for training budding pilots. I eventually discovered that the single biggest obstacle to aviation career for new pilots was the exorbitant cost of training. I figured out how I could offer it at a better cost - that’s if I purchased my own aircraft. So, I leased a few aircraft, both locally and from South Africa, which I eventually bought when the business was running smoothly. I also shifted my flight operations to the Coast, where I owned an airstrip. I stopped flying commercial airlines and shifted focus to my business.
But before you could enjoy the fruits of your labour, things started falling apart. What happened?
Aviation in Kenya has a lot of powerful individuals with vested interests. I unknowingly stepped on a few toes due to my idealistic offers of affordable training rates. The aviation authority then started giving me a hard time about this, and after a long period of going at powers bigger than I was then, I had to close shop at the Coast, leading to massive losses. I lost a lot of money, running into millions, when this happened. I had to sell most of my aircrafts and disband my ground operations.
What happened next?
Due to the pressure of losing millions of shillings, towards the end of 2016, I collapsed in the house. On being rushed to hospital, I was diagnosed with a massive stroke, which rendered me speechless, blind, and paralysed from the neck down. It was caused by hypertension and the ongoing stress of losing my business in a short span of time.
How did your family and friends react to your drastic change of fortunes?
The people I had known as friends literally vanished from the scene, with some maliciously writing me off as a goner. Family, both mine and my dear wife’s, were quite careful to put a wide berth between themselves and us. Most people, I reason, were afraid of the heavy responsibility that comes with being a primary caregiver, choosing to exit my life before any part of that role befell them. We, however, were graciously blessed with new friends, who as time went by, morphed into family.
A lot must have unfolded while stuck in your hospital bed...
Yes, fear, depression, anger, and sadness were my daily struggles. I was angry at the people who shot my business down just because they could. I feared for my family, how they would cope now that I was no longer the man I was to them. There was utter confusion as to why this had to happen at a time when I had no wall to lean on at all.
What kept you going despite all this?
My wife. She was very young when this happened. Yet through sheer determination, she tried diligently to get me back to my feet, going as far as using YouTube videos to learn physiotherapy when we ran out of money. That gave me a reason to hold on to life, when all else looked gray.
What was the worst moment in your journey to recovery?
Relearning everything! Learning to talk, to walk, to do normal adult activities again. It was like being a baby all over again. And there seemed to be no end in sight.
What lessons have you learnt from your tragic experience?
That family is basically those who are with you when the worst hits, and not necessarily those you were born with, by, or into. Also, taking as much time as needed to choose who you label as friends. It serves your peace of mind.