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Flying Doctors Use Burning Toilet Paper to Land King Air


Flying Doctors Use Burning Toilet Paper to Land King Air

Recently, the Royal Australia’s Flying Doctor service had to come up with a unique landing solution for their King Air aircraft when making a midnight emergency landing at a remote outback runway. The solution? 20 toilet rolls doused in diesel fuel were lit on fire and lined up in rows. The Flying Doctor service posted on their Facebook page the incident and it quickly became a hit.

The aircraft ambulance was summoned when a female farm hand was seriously injured in a vehicle accident at a cattle station in northwest Queensland. The ranch was 200 miles north of the small Queensland town of Cloncurry and had no runway lights and had run out of flares to light its landing strip. Thus the toilet paper solution was implemented.

For pilot Geoff Cobden, it was the only way he could safely land his plane in the dark of night.

“This particular night, we got a call that there’s a patient. We discuss different ways of lighting the airstrip and we came up with dunny (toilet) rolls as the best option,” Cobden, who was flying the Beechcraft King Air twin-turboprop aircraft, said.

Pilot Geoff Cobden Photograph: Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland
Pilot Geoff Cobden, Photograph: Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland

The ill farm hand had been taken to Burke and Wills Roadhouse, a service station approximately 250 kilometers or 30 minutes flight from where Cobden was based.

“They said ‘yeah, yeah’ we have plenty of dunny (toilet) rolls and so we explained how to set up… so basically soak them in diesel and they’ll burn for about half an hour, and set them up 30 meters wide.

“We say don’t light them until we get there. We’ve got UHF radio so we talk to them from the aeroplane once we are overhead and get them to run along and light them all up.”

The runway was a success and the patient was transported back to the nearest hospital.


Cobden said he and other pilots could get the plane “pretty well wherever you need us” and noted it uncommon landing solutions are not unusual.

“You save someone’s life [working with the RFDS] in the bush – you have only got to walk around little town cemeteries to see what it used to be like before us,” he said.