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If I am allowed the odd long post I will tell a few tales of my adventures over the years in some interesting countries.


I have nearly been kidnapped, pulled an aircraft out of a suspected minefield whilst working in the middle of a civil war and the odd mishap. Stay tuned!



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The Twin Otter in the minefield


In 1990 the civil war in Angola was at its height and was a dangerous place to be. I was sent there to Huambo and the only way in or out was by air.


The normal circuit entry was about 3500 ft above ground level to keep out of small arms range, and then spiral down and stabilise and land from a short final. It was very spectacular watching the Russians in their big IL76 spiral down from 25000 ft popping flares (IR Decoys) every 10 seconds.


Another time there were two Mig 21 doing a bit of a hoon near the town at supersonic speed; the sonic boom sure gives you a thump. I watched the first come back to land but the second seemed to be very fast. He touched down a bit long and instead of going around he popped the drogue chute which promptly departed. Next there were two puffs of smoke from his tyres and he was running out of options fast. Finally he was out of my sight even though I was perched on top of the Twotter to get a better view, but there was a huge cloud of red dust as he went off the end of the runway. Never did hear if he survived.


One day we got an urgent call on the radio that one of our Twotters had crashed at Chitembo and there was somebody killed. The Red Cross (our client) loaded an aircraft up with our doctor and a few other people including me and off we went, not knowing what we would find. As we landed the crew and Red Cross nurse were waving at us. The casualty was sadly a young conscript soldier who was in the way as the aircraft went off the runway.


Unbeknown to the crew the hydraulics had failed as they started the takeoff and the nose wheel was cocked to the left and the aircraft had departed the runway to the left. Unfortunately there were two defence trenches at 90° to the runway. In a nose high attitude they bounced off the berm at the first trench and their luck ran out. The last metre of the right wing was sheared off by a windsock pole so that washed off a lot of speed. The next trench they hit level and that took off the nosegear I had put on the day before, and the aircraft came to rest in the suspect minefield with a smashed and buckled nose area.


The only safe way was to walk down the scrape marks and trail of wreckage to the aircraft escorted by the military.


A couple of days later we went back down there and pulled it with a truck and a lot of rope through the tail back to the runway, being extra careful to step only in the tyre marks of the truck. Once we had it back at the area next to the village it was then able to be stripped for salvage and that took us two weeks, flying in and out every day.


The two of us would be dropped off at about 0830 every day and picked up again at about 1530 for the flight home with all the bits we had stripped that day.


One day we had got both engines off and with a lot of manhandling got them in the Twotter, strapped ourselves into the rear seats and off we went. We were both asleep on the approach into Kuito, where we had to pick up a doctor before going on to Huambo, when the the power went on as the aircraft reared up. That had our attention as the pilot, a very experienced Frenchman called us forward. We had a massive aft c of g which the pilot recognised instantly the flaps went down. Our next landing was flapless and fast after we moved some stuff forward and sat in the front row of seats as we were both big guys. Once on ground there was a movement of some heavy stuff forward before our next leg home.


Years later as I passed through Zurich I was shown the rebuilt aircraft and it was immaculate. It had been rebuilt by a Hungarian sheetmetal guy who is the best I have ever worked with anywhere.


During a lull in the war a Herky Bird was flown into the runway and reversed up the length, pulled the airframe, wings and horizontal stab of the stripped Twin Otter inside and wasted no time getting out again where the parts finally got back to Europe for the rebuild.


Another couple of weeks in the life of Xpat!



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A great story xpat..adventures and events some of us can only imagine..glad you came through it all safely with such clear and full of life memories.. that are part of your joy in aviation. Tim :)



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The old man and the helicopter


I was working in Rangoon, Burma in the early 90’s looking after two Twin Otters which were support for oil exploration. We used to ferry people and supplies to various places north of Mandalay which was a fuel stop. It was also a pretty city.


This time the aircraft was going to be away for about a week so I went for the trip. We were moving the seismic drill rigs from Homelin, near the Indian border and Phombyen which had been our northern base for a while. All of the gear was being moved to Pinlebu where we had not operated before in northern central Burma.


The way things were planned was to move the rigs from several places to Pinlebu and then they would be long lined by helicopter directly to the seismic line in the jungle.


I will translate the forgoing for those who may not understand the terminology I have used.


The seismic line is a pre-surveyed straight line where at 500 metre intervals holes are bored to about 18 metres deep and packed with a small predetermined explosive charge. Microphones at set points record the echoes and that data is then processed and the underlying structure is accurately mapped.


The helicopter long line is a 200 ft line to which the load is slung in a net and then is able to be lowered through the jungle canopy while keeping the helicopter above the trees. To say it takes a lot of skill on the pilots behalf is surely an understatement; these guys were the best. The helicopter was usually the French Lama. The real heavy work was done by the Bell 214ST, Bell 212, and the Russian Kamov 32 with contra rotating blades. This day we were only using the Lamas.


The first day started off in bad weather and we ended up being weathered in at Homelin. A Lama came and picked us up and flew us up to Tamanthi on the Chidwin River where we overnighted. It was a low level flight under the cloud base. Something we could not have done in the Twin Otter safely.


The next morning we had a memorable flight back to our aircraft. The river is a typical tropical river, wide and high banks. We flew down the centre of the river level with the banks. As we passed each village the people all waved at us, as the Burmese people are very nice. Unfortunately their government have the collective IQ of a retarded ape.


At Pinlebu the whole town came to the airport to watch the proceedings of the foreigners. It was, like all other strips, a grass runway and parking area which after rain go muddy. The Twotters came and went, the helicopters hovered overhead picking up the nets full of drill rig components and heading into the jungle.


Just before lunch it was time to refuel and have a break and the choppers were parked near the crowd. An old man very carefully approached on helicopter and looked at it for a while with a puzzled look on his face. He then got a little braver and went for a closer look. Then he touched it with a small stick and stepped back, possibly expecting some reaction. As there was none he then stroked it and walked around it and finally one of the pilots watching helped him into the aircraft so he could sit inside. His expressions and actions have remained etched in my memory forever.


For lunch we jumped in one of the choppers and flew into the centre of town, parked it and strolled to the restaurant where we had a nice Burmese meal, then back into the chopper to the airport and back to work.


The next couple of nights we overnighted back in Phombyen which was built from bush materials; bamboo weave over wooden frame. We did not have electricity, just oil lamps.


Later the camp moved to Authaw which was a more modern with transportable accommodation units and a generator. I stayed there on a few occasions.


Another tale from the Xpat files



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Thanks sixtiesrelic. I spent many years in the airlines before getting out into the expat world of general aviation where the adventures and dangers were.



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Loved the vision of the old man and the stick..the pilot and his kindness..yes things like that stay in one's mempory..and I'm willing to bet it not only made his day but was etched in his memory too..thanks for sharing that one xpat Tim :)



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Nearly kidnapped in Yemen


I was phoned up one day and asked if I would go to Yemen; of course was the reply. As I had to go through the Nerve Centre in Zurich I ended up going in the longest way imaginable. To Zurich via KL and Frankfurt. Then it was to London where I would travel down with one of the pilots. From London it was with Middle East Airlines to Beirut. It was an absolutely beautiful sight coming in from the Mediterranean Sea late afternoon and the sun on the spectacular Atlas Mountains but when we landed it was back to reality. It was still in the aftermath of the civil war and the terminal was still badly damaged by bombs and shells.


The ancient B707 we were to transfer to had broken down so we waited five hours until it was fixed. Then it was to Jeddah where we could not get out and then Aden. We were then whisked through the formalities by our client and to their guest house at the Crater for some breakfast as the pilot had to fly the Twin Otter to Masilla Base in central Yemen for the crew change. It was about a two hour flight to a rough gravel strip at the camp where I then had to get on our Pilatus Porter PC-6 for the flight to my camp near Riyan (the international airport of Al Mukulla and was 30 km east along the coast) .


The camp was a construction camp run by a Lebanese company and the cook was Thai. One of the residents there was a Frenchman who ran a fishing company nearby so often we had crayfish by the box full. I never got sick of eating it. I was back to back with a Swiss engineer so he showed me the ropes.


We had a Pajero short wheelbase wagon to get around in as the airport was 10 km away. The other place I would sometimes have to drive to was Delta Base 80 km away on the plateau behind and to Al Mukulla for supplies of the alcoholic kind and other small bits and pieces. The southern Yemenis are nice people and if you went to a shop and they did not have what you wanted they would usually give you a cup of tea and send somebody to get it for you. It was an ancient city, Marco Polo had allegedly passed through there on his way to the orient.


As with any oil companies I was given a thorough briefing on local conditions, dangers and generally what to expect; even though I had spent years working in Libya and knew basically what to expect I listened carefully. I am glad I did as it saved me a lot of possible trauma and possibly death.


The road to Delta base (where we had another Twin Otter based) was about 20 km of coastal plain which then funnelled into a wadi (dry river) Then there was a village and police post where I was always waved through as they knew the car as it had our company logo on it. After the police post it was a steep narrow zigzag with no barriers up the edge of the wadi to the plateau over a thousand feet up. Then it was about 35 km through small wadi’s until Delta base, a French camp on the road to Shibam, a fabulous city with a lot of buildings carved into the cliffs. From here I have flown a couple of times to the ancient city of Sana’a which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world at 7500 ft high.


One evening a couple of the young pilots accompanied me to the souk (market) where we stepped back thousands of years surrounded by the smells of all the spices, myrrh, and incense and the traders carrying on as they did in the biblical times. It is the true Arabia.


All communication between camps was by HF radio; wherever I went I would inform the radio operator where I was going and my SAR time. One morning there was an urgent message for me to go to Delta base immediately with all my sheet metal tools and sheet, bring my overnight gear as the rebels had come to the camp at night killed a few people and put holes in our Twin Otter.


A couple of hours later I was up there and by this time the Yemeni military had some heavy weapons surrounding us for our protection.


The Twotter had a few holes through the fuselage and one had hit the hydraulic line to the flaps, all which was easily repaired, but the worse thing was the hole through the lift strut for the wing. That was going to be replaced before any flight and that was coming from Zurich.


I had an uncomfortable night there, same as my first night in the war in Angola. The camp boss told us the sad story of a young French couple who had come to Yemen as tourists and had found there way to Delta base. They were given accommodation and said they were on their way to Shibam. They were advised not to go there as even the big tough oilmen did not use that road, and were offered to be flown to Sana’a next day at no cost. They did not take that advice and hitch-hiked to Shibam. Hitch hiking was the way locals got around.


A couple of days later they were found at the gate by the guards in a very bad state. Both had been pack raped in every orifice and beaten. They were medivaced out to Sana’a and then to France where they recovered but will have the trauma for the rest of their lives simply because they would not take advice from those familiar with the situation, and thought they knew better.


Mid afternoon it was time for me to head back to my camp as I had a busy day ahead as I had to fly to Masilla base to do some maintenance on the Porter. I informed the radio operator of my intentions and started off home. I had gone about 10 km down the road and passed a grotty old Toyota Landcruiser full of men with AK47 or such like weapons. A couple of km on I came to Saudi registered Chev van with the same sort of men inside. As I went to pass him I was blocked and then realised the old Toyota was behind me. Bugger!! In such a situation the briefing told us to keep moving at all times as once they had stopped you it was the end.


I kept trying to pass on either side and in anticipation he would speed up, as was my intention. I knew the road and if I could string this out until I got to some sweeping bends down into a small wadi I had a chance of getting away as the situation was now very serious. Fortunately I did that and as we were going down the sweeping bends he drifted out and was unable to stop me going on the inside of him and speeding away. At that point I was expecting to be shot or shot at, but as I am here to tell the tale it did not happen. Fortunately these guys are poor drivers and I finally got to the police post where I could relax after a hairy ride down the big wadi as I did not know how far they were behind. Normally I would just go down in second gear slowly but this time it was in third and a bit quicker with a lot of brakes. I had run out of brakes by the time I was on the flat road, but I did not worry.


Later when recounting the story to my mate in Delta base we suspect it was the same people who had shot up the camp a few nights before. Scary stuff!


This was not the only adventure I had in that fascinating country but was potentially the most detrimental to my continued good health.


Another tale from the Xpat files



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For those who may want to look at Google Earth I have some co-ordinates for my Yemen story.


Al Mukalla


N14, 32,37.17


E49, 07,37.93


My Accommodation






Riyan Airport






Police Post & Village at bottom of steep wadi






Nearly kidnapped






Delta Base







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