Op Martock Nov 1992

On 1 November 92, coincidently the day 38 Group reformed, the FCO decided that the situation in Angola was unsupportable and requested MOD to help in evacuating up to 400 UK Nationals from Luanda. Speed was essential but would be dependant on FCO negotiations with the Angolan Government. In discussion between air transport tasking staff in MOD and 38 Group, it was decided to use a TriStar. Luanda airport was suitable; a slip crew was available in Ascension Island, as was an aircraft on the routine South Atlantic schedule. Unfortunately, some of the support staff including those that were deemed necessary to accompany the aircraft to secure the safety of Embassy staff in Luanda were in the UK. A Tristar was put on standby at Brize Norton. On 3 November, the FCO obtained approval, a Mobile Air Movements team and others were assembled at Brize Norton and the aircraft despatched to Ascension Island.

 

Then the real planning started. How many evacuees were there really? Where should they be taken, back to Ascension or across the border to Brazzaville operating a shuttle? Was fuel available at Luanda? If not was it available anywhere else? Should the aircraft carry round-trip fuel? Should the crew be armed? What about aircraft operating criteria; would additional authorizations be required? Could we get the required diplomatic clearance to fly through Zairian airspace to land at Brazzaville if we wanted? And, most importantly, would the diplomats manage to get clearance from the Angolan Government for the aircraft to land at Luanda? All these and many more questions required answers; not easy when the telephone lines to Kinshasa, Luanda and Brazzaville are suspect at the best of times. The French were using C-160 aircraft from Brazzaville in a shuttle, but one crew had been arrested in Luanda for carrying weapons. That answered the question about arming our crew!

 

Meanwhile, in Ascension, the Station Commander was making preparations to receive evacuees. The aircraft arrived from the UK, briefings were held and it was placed on a 2 hour standby. We still did not know how many evacuees there would be, or whether there would be fuel. Therefore, the aircraft was fuelled for a round trip to Ascension, and some more, and the Captain advised that the decision lay with him at Luanda. If there were more than 250 evacuees he was to shuttle to Brazzaville; if less, he was to return to Ascension. Ascension provided medical staff and police to travel on the aircraft which, in the event had a relatively uneventful flight, although the time on the ground at Luanda proved interesting. The aircraft returned to Ascension with 167 evacuees who were fed and watered before being flown to Gatwick in the same TriStar, but with a change of crew, arriving there at 6am on 5 November - the end of a successful mission.

 

If it sounds like a Boys Own yarn it is meant to. While the aircraft was en route the activity from the support staff at MOD, the FCO, 38 Group, Brize Norton and Ascension was feverish. Without it the evacuation would have not been the success it was. Fortunately, this type of humanitarian mission is rare and we were lucky this time that it all started on a Sunday. They usually start at 5pm on a Friday

 

Gp Capt DKL McDonnell, Royal Air Force 94, The Royal Air Force Public Relations Magazine 1994