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Monday, 9 October, 2000, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Dangers of flying Angola style
soldier climb on wreckage
Soldiers on the wreckage of a plane at Luena airport
By Lara Pawson in Luanda

Travelling by road in Angola is like Russian roulette. Landmines are a constant threat and reports of ambushes throughout the country are sadly, all too common.

For people who have the cash, flying is the safest and only alternative. But even flying is high-risk.


Complaints of pilots enjoying a swig or two while working are not uncommon.

Lara Pawson

Occasionally, aircraft are shot down by Unita rebels.

More often, planes crash on landing, on take off or even in mid-flight.

Official reports tend to blame "technical problems" but passengers and pilots tell a different story.

Vodka

Complaints of pilots enjoying a swig or two while working are not uncommon.

I never believed the rumours until last year, when I hitched a lift home from the provinces on an Antonov-12.

rusty abandoned helicopter
A helicopter abandoned next to Huambo airport's runway

A Russian and Ukrainian crew passed around a bottle of Vodka during the journey.

Unnerved by their gay abandon, I finally accepted their offer for a gulp of Russia's finest.

Captain Helder Lomba, an Angolan who flies Air Gemini cargo planes packed with aid supplies to the provinces, admits he's heard of pilots drinking alcohol.

However, he told me in fits of laughter, "It's completely forbidden and I never drink, never."

Lack of aircraft maintenance is another problem - tales of failed engines are not rare in Angola.

A priest working in the provinces once told me how he survived a drop mid-flight of an estimated 1,000m.

He said he had never been so scared in his life and was amazed, after landing safely, that the crew said nothing to the passengers about the terrifying incident.

All in a day's work, perhaps.

Gaping hole

Last year, I boarded a plane for a trip down south to Benguela province.

As we taxied towards the runway in Luanda, one of the windows on the aircraft fell in, leaving a gaping hole.

Having been notified, a member of the crew simply sauntered over, picked up the window and pushed it back into place with his fist.

unplane
A UN plane is loaded with grain

Some runways here are like cemeteries for aeroplanes.

Landing in Saurimo for the first time, is very unnerving.

Circling above the airport, in preparation to land, passengers look down on several wing-less, tail-less and derelict planes, crashed and now abandoned at the side of the airstrip.

Further north in Dundo, one plane appears to have nose-dived straight into a crater at the side of the runway.

Apart from that, it is in perfect condition.

I always shudder when passengers start clapping on touch-down in Angola.

Until the plane has come to a complete halt, there is no guarantee that you are safe.

It is partly for this that Angola's authorities are insisting this month on strict flying tests for over 400 foreign pilots.

Any pilot who fails will be repatriated and banned from flying in Angola.

Hopefully, come November, flying will cease to be an experience to dread.

See also:

02 Jul 99 | Africa
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