Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)

Returning from an overseas posting, my wife and I took off on a VC10 from Bahrain bound for Beirut. Very shortly after take-off, the aircraft flew into a violent thunderstorm, and was buffeted violently in all directions. There were flashes of lightning, crashes from loose objects being thrown around the aircraft and the sound of crockery being smashed in the catering galley. It was all quite frightening. Luckily, as it happened so soon after take off, all passengers and crew were still strapped in.

In my time in the RAF I had been a navigator on Dakotas, operating out of Singapore and Indonesia, so I have had had my share of bumpy rides, but I never experienced anything as bad as this.

When things finally settled down, the chief steward whispered to me "We are going back to Bahrain". Looking out of the window, I was surprised to see RAF fighters flying alongside. Bahrain was still an RAF base in those days.

Then the captain's calm voice came over the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are going back to Bahrain, as we have lost all of our instruments. However, there is no need to worry, for as you can probably see, the RAF are helping us back".

We landed without incident, and we could then see the considerable damage that had been done to the aircraft. There were big dents in the wings and fuselage caused by the hailstones, and the radome, which housed the aircraft instruments in the nose of the aircraft, had been blown apart. It would have been very dangerous to try to land an aircraft without the pilot knowing the air speed. This had been monitored by the RAF fighters and relayed by radio to the captain.

When we went in to the passenger lounge, my wife said to me: “You know when you were pretending to be calm, reading the newspaper, it was in fact upside down." At any rate, drinks in the lounge were on the house.

I got chatting to a fellow passenger who was also in the aviation business, and we were happy enough to have a couple of drinks as we mused over the events.

Later, on station, I was interested to read the captain's aircraft accident/incident report. He of course mentioned the extreme violence of the storm, and the loss of the instruments, but I was particularly struck by the last few words of his report. " I was scared stiff ", admitted this experienced BOAC captain.

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