Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
The first of the more recent wars in the Gulf, which took place in 1991 involved the illegal annexation of Kuwait by Iraq and the combined UN forces overturning this. For obvious reasons, the whole area of around 500 miles radius from Kuwait was closed to civilian aircraft. But when the hostilities ceased, the aftermath of this war was a vast swath of Kuwaiti landmass commercially destroyed, with the oil well infrastructure having being set on fire by the departing Iraqis to deny any rapid recovery by the Kuwaitis, their allies and neighbours. By June of that year, tentative steps were made to re-establish the British Airways flights into Kuwait.
The Tristar crew selected for this exploratory mission had already been together a few days in Bahrain and picked up another first officer who had recently joined BA from the RAF, who asked if he could come along and observe on this sector.
The briefing was a bit unusual, as there were few, reliably working, precision navigation landing aids and the best approach facility we could expect to use would be the VOR/DME. With this facility, the visibility and cloud base ceiling would need to be much higher in value than would be required if the more usual instrument landing system (ILS) limits, which we would have applied. The problem with this, as we saw it, was that there was no reliable way of establishing these values for visibility and ceiling height with all the oil fires burning around the airport. With these points in mind, we determined to take sufficient fuel to fly from Bahrain to Kuwait and back again, with some ample reserves, just in case we could not in fact land at the very last minute.
We set off in hope and routinely transited north towards Kuwait under the Air Traffic Control of Bahrain. In time, they handed us over to the Kuwait radar controller and we asked him for the latest weather. Our briefing notes had advised us to expect unpredictable changes in smoke clouds and to not place too much reliability on what the people on the ground could actually tell us. Back came the response, that the surface visibility was more than a kilometre and that the ceiling was variably 500-1000ft. This was just about good enough for the VOR/DME limits in our Arrivals Performance manual and so we elected to press on into Kuwaiti airspace.
As we got nearer to Kuwait, the ATC reports became less and less appealing, with the ceiling in particular going up and down like a yoyo as the wind blew the smoke palls around the airport. The wind was forecast to change direction and so we elected to take up the hold, as we had ample fuel to do so. The captain briefed that we would remain in the hold until we had copied a series of acceptable limits that would permit us to make an approach and, as the flight engineer, I worked out the time by which we would need to decide what to do next.
Suddenly, the radios captured the call sign of a Middle East Airlines flight, calling up to establish contact with Kuwait from the flight from Beirut. This takes place in Arabic and when this has concluded we call him up and ask in English if he could help us.
Sure thing, Speedbird. We have been flying in and out for a week now and well tell you what we get after weve landed. Hey, you guys look pretty good up there
We briefly catch sight of him as a flash of sunlight on his wings as he turns beneath us to commence his descent. There are several more ATC exchanges in Arabic and then it all goes very quiet for about five minutes. Then there is a burst of accented English.
Hey Speedbird. You still up there?
Affirmative. Ready to copy. Over
OK. The fire clouds of smoke start at around three thousand feet and they vary in density all the way down to around one thousand feet. There are a lot of flames from unburnt crude oil vapour igniting and this is very alarming when it gets close to the windscreen. You break out around one thousand feet and then you can see all the runway lights and you have no problem. Best of luck
Many thanks Cedar Jet. See you soon.
Armed with this PIREP, the captain began his briefing and we requested descent.
As predicted, at three thousand feet, we left the bright blue skies over Kuwait and flew into an initially white, but rapidly grey, dense pall of smoke. As predicted, every few seconds a sheet of flame would streak across the windscreen, with an audible whoosh at times from the rapidly changing air density. I noted that the outside air temperature gauge was fluctuating wildly and this was feeding erroneous data into the flight management system controlling the engines, so we took the auto-throttle out and I chased the speed as best I could. There was also a readily detectable catch in my throat and taste in my mouth from this heavily polluted air we were flying through; additionally distracting. As we passed one thousand feet, we suddenly caught sight of the runway approach lights and then they disappeared again, to reappear a few seconds later after yet another fire ball surged past us.
The mandatory call out at one thousand feet was made and the response Continuing. Man Land I have control from the Captain.
We literally bounced through the sky into a world the like of which I had never seen before. All around the airport were the remains of burned out vehicles and their final progress, marked by the hastily repaired scars in the taxiways from the helicopter gun ship cannon fire. The ex RAF first officer who was on the flight deck observing gave me a running commentary about this.
Decision Height came and we were easily within limits to land, from which we cautiously approached the terminal, led by a slow moving Follow Me jeep. It was like driving into a film set from the movie Mad Max. All the windows in the terminal were shot out, there was litter and debris everywhere and I briefly worried what we might be ingesting into the engines. We shut down and were immediately surrounded by armed guards. Middle East Airlines flight chipped in.
Hey Speedbird. You made it. Well done. Crazy place huh?
Many thanks for your help Cedar Jet. Yes, it was a little crazy up there in the smoke. Take care you guys.
Double click on his microphone in the standard way we signed off in those days out there.
While on the ground, some of the cabin crew wanted to take photographs of the damage, but the guards werent too keen on this. But the donation of a few bars of childrens snacks and passengers discarded wash bags distracted them long enough for these to be taken. Alas I didnt have mine with me. We did a rapid turn-around, I was very relieved to find nothing damaged and we departed back to Bahrain. This was virtually my last trip on the Tristar, as my log book continues on the next page with my conversion training flights on the Boeing 747 Classic and one of the most rewarding phases of my flying career was over.
© Peter Richards
(Editor's note - this story has already been published elsewhere, in the 'Aerospace Professional'
BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
About the charity 'Practical Action'
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Liver (1970)
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
UK - A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
Further reading and watching for addicts....
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
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