Clouds block our descent; we are lost

After about the right amount of en-route time had elapsed, the coast range loomed ahead of us.  My altitude would take me above them.  Ahead of me, east of the coast range — clouds were backed up against the hills, as far as I could see, to both north and south!  To land at Cairns I had to descend below the clouds on the east side of the coast range.  I was not going to descend through the clouds; what if they reached all the way to the ground?

Then, below to my right, a glorious sight: a rift through the coast range, and looking down through the rift, I could see — sugar cane fields!

It wasn’t much of an opening, but it was all I needed.  I throttled the power back and lowered the nose.  After dropping about nine thousand feet, we flew through the rift and under the clouds.  Then I turned north, toward Cairns.

Our altitude below the clouds was about a thousand feet.  We were on our way to Cairns, but how far away was it?  Where were we, exactly?

A primary control zone surrounded Cairns airport.  I had to contact Cairns Tower, but I didn’t know my exact location.  Entering a primary control zone without clearance is a serious violation of DCA rules.  It could cost me my license.

Just then I looked ahead and saw a paved airstrip.  Could it be Cairns?  Its layout didn’t seem quite right, but it made me nervous.

I had only one alternative.

I called Cairns tower and reported myself lost.

Then, checking my aero chart, I identified the airstrip as Innisfail, and reported the information to Cairns tower.

To complicate things even further, an agricultural helicopter was operating in the area, but his radio was so bad that I could understand little of what he said.

Cairns tower said that I was cleared for a straight-in approach, and that I should report to the tower after I had tied the Comanche down.

As I landed at Cairns, I saw a turboprop airplane, the scheduled commercial service to Cairns, waiting at a taxiway entrance to the airstrip.  The tower was holding the airliner until I had landed.

Embarrassed, I landed, tied down, and reported to the tower.  They were really quite nice about it.  I had crossed the northern Queensland remote area and made it safely to Cairns, with fuel to spare.  Reporting myself lost was a safety measure I took, which cost me an incident report, but no further repercussions.

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