The Pan Am Series – Part III: The Cairo Hijacking

Remains of hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, N752PA "Clipper Fortune" a Boeing 747 after being blown up at Cairo.

Remains of hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, N752PA “Clipper Fortune” a Boeing 747 after being blown up at Cairo.

On 6 September 1970, Pan Am’s flight 93, a Boeing 747, departed Brussels for New York via Amsterdam.  The flight never made it to New York.

During the flight’s stopover in Amsterdam, four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (“PFLP”) attempted to board an El Al flight, a Boeing 707 bound for New York.  Two got through but the other two were denied by Israeli security. These two then purchased First Class tickets on flight 93.

On the same day in Frankfurt, another group of PFLP members boarded TWA Flight 741, a Boeing 707 bound for New York; and in Zurich, members also boarded a Swissair DC-8 bound to New York as well. The Pan Am, TWA and Swissair flights were hijacked.  An attempt to hijack the El Al flight was foiled by the crew and a sky marshal. The TWA and Swissair flights were flown to and eventually landed at the PFLP’s “Revolutionary Airport” at Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan, formerly a British Royal Air Force base. The Pan Am flight was flown to Beirut, where it refueled and took on board additional PFLP members. The aircraft then flew on to Cairo instead of Dawson’s Field, because the Jordan airfield was considered too small to accommodate a 747.

On 9 September, a BOAC (now British Airways) VC-10 bound for London was hijacked after it departed from Bahrain and was taken to Dawson’s Field.

This became known as the “Dawson’s Field Hijacking”.

800px-Dawsonfieldcamels

The “Revolutionary Airport” at Dawson’s Field

The BOAC, TWA and Swissair aircraft were blown up on September 12, 1970 (below).

Dawson's_Field blowing up on Sep 12

The Pan Am aircraft, upon arrival in Cairo, was blown up almost immediately.  The late John Ferruggio was the In-Flight Director, and having been told the 747 would be blown up within eight minutes after landing, led his cabin crew team in the evacuation of 136 passengers and 17 crew-members.  Everyone survived.

Nellie Beckhans was a flight attendant on that trip, her first in Europe after years working Pan Am’s Central and South America routes.  Below are excerpts from her story about this event that appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

From Nellie Beckhans:

“* * * We picked up passengers in Amsterdam.  Now it was time to go home.  On taxiing to the runway the plane stopped.  A few minutes later I heard a commotion in the First Class section.  From my assigned position at R3 door, facing the aft of the airplane, I turned around to see Captain John Priddy talking to the purser and some passengers.* * * After a short period of time the Captain made an announcement stating that he had to check some passengers and we were now ready for departure.  * * *  

“The airplane took off, headed for New York.  About 20 minutes later when we thought we were going to start our service, the In-flight Director made an announcement that we were to remain seated.  We were going to a different destination.   * * * The flight attendant working First Class told me that there were two hijackers and they had a gun and grenades.  They did not want anybody in First Class.  She said that the Purser was taken to the cockpit with a gun at her head.  * * * Thankfully the passenger load was light and everyone remained calm.   * * *

“Much later I heard we were going to Beirut.  * * * The hijackers wanted to go to Amman to blow up the plane.  I remember flying and flying. Meanwhile a hijacker was stringing the dynamite fuses between the seats.  * * * When the hijackers finally agreed to land in Cairo the In-flight Director called the crew together and informed us of the plan.  * * * As soon as the plane stopped I opened R4 door and the passengers evacuated.  When I was going down the chute the airplane moved and I went off the slide.  * * * It was a happy moment when we heard everyone got off the airplane.  We lost our possessions and our shoes but we were alive and safe.     

Nelida (Perez) Beckhans was based in New York from 1967 to 1970 as a Special Services Representative and from 1970 to 1982 as a Flight Attendant.  She transferred to Miami in 1982 and was stationed there through 1991.  Her length of service with Pan Am was 24 years and 8 months.

Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, cover pictured below, is a collection of essays  written by the people of Pan Am, the pilots, the flight attendants, the station managers and other staff who participated in the history making events that arguably made Pan Am the greatest airline that ever was—and certainly the most renowned and celebrated.

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

“On December 11, 1934, Pan Am’s founder, Juan T. Trippe in a New York City speech stated:

‘By each successive step, aviation is advancing to that potential ideal of a universal service for humanity.  By overcoming artificial barriers, aviation can weave together, in closer understanding, the nations of the world, and lift for the peoples of the world those horizons which have too long limited the prospective of those who live upon this earth.’

“These words are fulfilled in this book, an anthology of stories written by the people of Pan Am.  They were there at the important and news-making events that shaped the airline’s life.  Many of these events made headlines around the world, such as the carnage at Tenerife or the Lockerbie bombing.   And, with the recent fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, the name Pan American is still commanding space in news publications today.  Other events, among so many, might have just been a small item in the local newspaper or were never reported at all. 

“There were those employees who went beyond the call of duty; others were simply doing their job and in some cases there was loss of life of their dear friends.   The bottom line, big or small, heroic or otherwise, is that the events were important to the airline and its people.  This is the story we have to tell: The historic achievements of Pan Am as experienced and lived by its greatest resource – its people.”

Among the 71 essays are recollections of the inaugural flights of the Boeing 707 and 747, the flight that brought the Beatles to the United States for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and flights carrying dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.  Other stories recall Pan Am’s involvement in the rescue of orphans during the Viet Nam War and the final closing of its Saigon Station.  There are personal recollections of hijackings, Presidential Press charters, the sale of Pan Am’s Pacific routes and the merger with National Airlines.  Finally is the narrative by the pilot who was captain on Pan Am’s last revenue flight on December 4, 1991.

These stories and much more are included in this book and any student or fan of aviation will find a treasure trove of history and memories.

Below are some comments:

From Readers,

“This is a superb collection of very short tales by a wide range of former employees ranging from flight crew to “ground pounders.” Taken together they provide an accurate, intimate view of what made this airline great.”

“Pan Am – nostalgia – memories – incredible stories. A must read if you enjoy air travel and get to wondering just what kind of lives did – and do – airline personnel live.”

“A nice compiling of stories by former Pan Am employees.  Well worth the read for any fan of Pan Am or airlines in general. Pan Am was the pioneer and the stories in the book prove it!”

From Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group,

“Fathered by the legendary Juan Trippe, Pan American was the leader in international aviation exploration and development. A relentless risk-taker, Trippe was an innovator and ultimate entrepreneur……………and this book captures many of Pan Am’s most memorable events from personal accounts of the employees who were there.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

http://bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

More information about Pan American World Airways History can be found on the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation.

http://panam.org/

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The Pan Am Series – Part II: The Boeing 314 Flying Boat

Boeing 314 - Flying Boat

Boeing 314 – Flying Boat

The Boeing 314 was a long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. One of the largest aircraft of the time, its massive wingspan enabled it to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Twelve ships, designated Clippers, were built for Pan Am.

Pan Am’s Clippers were built for “one-class” luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. With a cruise speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) Pan Am’s scheduled flight between San Francisco and Honolulu was 19 hours.  The passenger seats were convertible into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation.  In addition there was a lounge and dining area with galleys crewed by top chefs.  White-coated stewards served multi-course meals during the trip.

Flight Deck

Flight Deck

Passengers Dining

Passengers Dining

The Boeing 314 inaugurated Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic service and on 20 May 1939, was first to operate mail service with the Yankee Clipper from New York to Marseilles, France via Horta, Azores and Lisbon, Portugal.   The Yankee Clipper also inaugurated mail service between New York and Southampton, England about a month later.  Trans-Atlantic passenger service was inaugurated on 29 June 1939 with the Dixie Clipper between New York and Marseilles, via Horta and Lisbon.

The aircraft played an important role in World War II and completed two history-making f;lights:

In January, 1942, the Pacific Clipper, commanded by Captain Robert Ford, completed the first flight around the world. Originating in San Francisco, the flight was required to return to the United States on a westward course due to military action after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  From Honolulu, the flight eventually arrived in New York after stopping in Canton, Suva (Fiji), Noumea, Auckland, Gladstone, Port Darwin, Surabaya, Trincomalee (Ceylon), Karachi, Bahrain, Leopoldville, Natal and Port of Spain.

On 11 January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew on the Dixie Clipper to the Casablanca Conference, becoming the first American president to fly on a commercial airliner while in office.  The route was Miami-Trinidad-Belem, Brazil-Bathurst, Gambia and then by army transport to Casablanca.  The return trip by the Clipper originated in Bathurst and stopped in Natal, Brazil and Trinidad, arriving in Miami 30 January 1943.

At Anchor in San Francisco

At Anchor in San Francisco

Captain Bill Nash, a retired Pan Am pilot, joined the airline in 1942 and spent his first years in the flight deck of the Boeing 314.  Below is a story he wrote about his experiences flying this aircraft.  It appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

The words of Captain Nash:

“When I joined Pan Am in 1942, one of the first phrases that I learned was “flying by the seat of your pants” – an old adage used to describe proper flying techniques. Before high-altitude jets flew commercially, we had to fly through wide storms rather than over them.  To do so, we developed a seat of the pants technique – literally- whereby our bottoms were being bumped, rather than slipping or sliding.

“Today, we have the sophistication and luxury of jetliners to fly over many of those boiling storm masses, cabin pressurization for oxygen supply, and radar to show us the dangerous storm cells, enabling us to fly around the violent depictions shown on the weather radar screen.

“When crossing an ocean in a Pan Am flying boat such as the Boeing-314, we navigated celestially using an octant.  Every Pan Am pilot was required to learn two methods of star computations to lay a position on the chart. On a Boeing-314 we had a glass hatch atop the cabin through which we could “shoot stars”.  When the sky was partly cloud-covered, we plotted whatever navigational stars we could see.  If the sky was overcast we could not use our octants.

“In the daylight we could see wind streaks on the surface of the sea, shiny lines running 90 degrees to the waves.  If we had cloud cover below as well as above, we would navigate by dead-reckoning, using the wind we thought we had.  If clear below and we passed a ship we could see, we could compare our position with theirs.

“Approaching a coast, such as much of the Atlantic shoreline, which could be a mass jungle, while receiving poor or no radio signals, we aimed at the shore off-coast 30 degrees left or right – wherever we considered the destination most likely to be.  When we arrived at the coast we then followed the shore to our destination.  If we had flown straight at the destination and saw nothing, we would not have known which way to follow the coast.

“During a typical 11-12 hour flight, we usually took turns resting every 4 hours in our crew bunks.  The props turned at 1,600 RPM’s and they vibrated violently.  Consequently, it took some time to fall asleep.

“During World War II on trans-oceanic flights, Pan Am crews had to learn how to decipher coded messages.  At departure we received an envelope which was not to be opened until we were aloft containing the keys to the codes which were valid for only a certain number of hours and then changed.

“The Boeing-314 crew consisted of a captain, first officer, second officer, third officer, fourth officer, first and second flight engineers and one Morse Code radio-operator plus varying number of flight personnel.  Four or more male stewards were aboard, depending on the aircraft’s configuration.  The work on board was considered too strenuous for stewardesses.  Hefty, large-capacity life rafts had to be handled and there were ponderous bunks to be prepared for sleeping.

“The entire aircraft was First Class, and our flying boats often carried kings, queens, presidents and potentates.  We were instructed to be pleasant with them if they addressed us, but not to seek out conversation.  President Juan Trippe wanted us to be able to converse intelligently by keeping up with current events, and having a good knowledge of history and sensitive political issues.

“Passengers enjoyed delicious meals that were prepared onboard and served in a 14-place dining room with black walnut tables in a silver and blue décor.  The food was elegantly served in courses by stewards in white jackets, on pale blue table cloths with matching monogrammed napkins and china.  Wine was always served and dinner was topped off with fancy desserts, fruits and cheeses, and a cordial of crème de menthe.  Sometimes there was a captain’s table.  After dinner, the dining room was converted into a lounge where some passengers chose to relax while others went to their cabins to sleep.

“The Boeing-314’s were retired from Pan Am’s service in 1946, after World War II.  Not one survived, and only a few parts exist in museums which to me, is very sad. Clare Booth Luce, a playwright, United States Congresswoman and Ambassador to Italy, returned to the US aboard a flight on the Boeing-314 and said “Years from now, we will look back upon Pan American’s flying boats as the most glamorous, romantic air travel in the world”.

“To me, experiencing this phase of early commercial aviation was one of the best times of my life.  Having had the opportunity to be part of a Boeing 314 crew was an outstanding adventure for a young man, and I still recall it well at age 94, and thrill to the memories of that great aircraft and the exciting era of world history, all made possible by my years with Pan Am.”

Bill Brenton Nash was a Pilot with Pan American from 17 August 1942 to 1 June 1977.  Now 96 years old, he lives with his wife Eva in Southwest Florida.

Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, cover pictured below, is a collection of essays  written by the people of Pan Am, the pilots, the flight attendants, the station managers and other staff who participated in the history making events that arguably made Pan Am the greatest airline that ever was—and certainly the most renowned and celebrated.

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

“On December 11, 1934, Pan Am’s founder, Juan T. Trippe in a New York City speech stated:

‘By each successive step, aviation is advancing to that potential ideal of a universal service for humanity.  By overcoming artificial barriers, aviation can weave together, in closer understanding, the nations of the world, and lift for the peoples of the world those horizons which have too long limited the prospective of those who live upon this earth.’

“These words are fulfilled in this book, an anthology of stories written by the people of Pan Am.  They were there at the important and news-making events that shaped the airline’s life.  Many of these events made headlines around the world, such as the carnage at Tenerife or the Lockerbie bombing.   And, with the recent fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, the name Pan American is still commanding space in news publications today.  Other events, among so many, might have just been a small item in the local newspaper or were never reported at all. 

“There were those employees who went beyond the call of duty; others were simply doing their job and in some cases there was loss of life of their dear friends.   The bottom line, big or small, heroic or otherwise, is that the events were important to the airline and its people.  This is the story we have to tell: The historic achievements of Pan Am as experienced and lived by its greatest resource – its people.”

Among the 71 essays are recollections of the inaugural flights of the Boeing 707 and 747, the flight that brought the Beatles to the United States for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and flights carrying dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.  Other stories recall Pan Am’s involvement in the rescue of orphans during the Viet Nam War and the final closing of its Saigon Station.  There are personal recollections of hijackings, Presidential Press charters, the sale of Pan Am’s Pacific routes and the merger with National Airlines.  Finally is the narrative by the pilot who was captain on Pan Am’s last revenue flight on December 4, 1991.

These stories and much more are included in this book and any student or fan of aviation will find a treasure trove of history and memories.

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

“[The book takes the] reader ‘inside Pan Am’ relative to its achievements and tragedies from a first-person perspective. * * * [O]ver 70 first-hand accounts . . . that lend authenticity to the human experience shared by employees at all levels of the company.  By the conclusion of the book, what becomes evident is that this unique US institution—long admired as ‘the American Flag’ by many foreign countries—has also come to represent a piece of the USA that has been sadly lost. This wonderful presentation of Pan Am revealed without barriers allows the reader to ponder a company that was only as great as the people who made it ‘The World’s Most Experienced Airline’”.

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

“The stories in this book make up what is essentially one important story – a story of dedication, heroism, and sacrifice – by an airline and its people during an important period of aviation history.  It is a story that needs to be preserved in history for future generations.  This book is an important step in that direction.”  

From Edward S. Trippe, Chairman, Pan Am Historical Foundation,

” . . . is a tribute to the legacy of one of the world’s great airlines and the men and women who for six decades were the soul of the company. * * * [This is] a compelling book, which through the words of its contributors captures much of the joy, adventure and spirit which was Pan Am.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

http://bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

The Pan Am Series – Part I: The Book

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

I am launching a new series of postings about Pan American World Airways to be called “The Pan Am Series”.  My aim is to share the memories of this iconic airline that played such an important role in the development of civil aviation.  Pan Am’s first revenue flight was a Fokker F-VII between Key West and Havana on 28 October 1927.  The last revenue flights were a 747 from New York Kennedy to São Paulo, Brazil on 3 December 1991 and a 727 from New York to Barbados on 4 December 1991.  Pan Am officially ceased operations at 9:00 a.m., 4 December 1991.  The 747 crew was resting in São Paulo awaiting their return flight that evening when the news broke.  The captain of the 727 received the news upon arrival in Barbados. Both their stories will be published in future postings.

I have been a fan of Pan Am all my life, starting as a boy when I watched a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser arrive at its gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after a flight from the Far East with my grandfather on board.

Pan Am's Boeing 377 - the Stratocruiser

Pan Am’s Boeing 377 – the Stratocruiser

My father did a lot of international travel as well and we would meet him at LAX when he arrived on DC-6Bs of Pan Am from South America.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the "Super 6", Clipper Midnight Sun.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the “Super 6”, Clipper Midnight Sun.

During our childhoods growing up in Los Angeles, our parents often took my sisters and me to LAX to visit the terminals and watch airplanes land over Sepulveda Boulevard.   During that time I developed an interest in collecting airline brochures, timetables and baggage tags.  For some reason, I developed a keen interest in the baggage tags and amassed a large collection over the years.  I leaned heavily in Pan Am’s favor because I thought it was the “best airline” and because the baggage tags were more colorful than other airlines.  I also liked the Pan Am timetables because the route map seemingly covered every corner of the globe!

Eventually, our family went on a trip to South America, and we flew on Pan Am!  I remember that day in 1957.  We flew from Los Angeles to Guatemala on a DC-6B, Flight 515.   That was the beginning of my traveling on many more Pan Am flights over the next decades, including on some its most prestigious routes.

As I grew up, I studied the history of Pan Am, and learned a lot of geography from the route maps and flight schedules in its timetables.  I even learned about time zones and the 24-hour clock!   As a college student, I managed to work Pan Am into my studies as an International Relations major, focusing on the international airline system and international politics.  Later, I went to law school to become an airline lawyer.

I continued collecting and over a period of 50 years, managed to keep much of the material, supplemented by purchases from similar collectors on eBay.

Recently, while teaching in the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, I often mentioned Pan Am, but to my surprise most of my students were not familiar with the aviation pioneer.  At the same time, I was in the process of preserving my Pan Am collection by scanning the brochures, timetables and tags and putting them into a digital “scrapbook”.  It dawned on me that it would be a nice idea to use the digital scrapbook to create a book about Pan Am’s history through images of the material I had scanned and use it to tell the Pan Am story to students and those who were not around during Pan Am’s glory years.  Thus was born my book, Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline.

pan am bookcover

From the Preface:

Probably no airline in the history of aviation has attracted more attention and has been more written about than Pan American World Airways, for decades the symbol of airline superiority world-wide. This is the airline that pioneered air navigation and communications.  It introduced international and over-ocean flights. It set the standard for in-flight service and brought air travel to the masses through the introduction of “Tourist” class.  It brought the industry into the jet age and eventually the era of the wide-body jet. To thousands of Americans living and working overseas, Pan American meant home. Pan American served the United States and never failed to answer the call of the country. For many, Pan American was the symbol of the United States around the world.

Pan American’s pioneering “firsts” have been thoroughly documented in many books and articles. And indeed a wealth of books, ranging from detailed histories to coffee-table picture books, is available to anyone interested in Pan American.

 In this book, Pan American’s firsts, along with significant events, are presented in chronological order and are divided into six sections representing key eras of the life of Pan American: (1) Beginnings (1927-1939); (2) The War Years (1940-1945); (3) The Piston Era (1946-1957); (4) The Jet Age (1958-1969); (5) Top of the World – Boeing 747 (1970-1979); and (6) End of an American Icon (1980-1991). The firsts and significant events are listed at the beginning of each section followed by illustrations from that era, including covers of annual reports, covers of time tables (along with a page of flight schedules and route map), baggage strap tags, safety information cards and pictures of aircraft. Some images are of items never before illustrated, many of which are rare or no longer exist.

Below is a link to a condensed version of the book featuring selected pages. The manuscript is “pre-camera ready” and many of the images may appear un-cropped.

http://issuu.com/jamiebaldwin/docs/manuscript_-_issuu

Comments about this book:

From Captain Bill Nash, who flew for Pan Am August 1942 – June 1977

“As a Pan Am pilot for 35 years (34 yrs as Captain) I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and the way you did it with items familiar to me, such as varied baggage strap tags, articles, routes, schedules, annual reports, progressive aircraft photos (external and internal), lists of Pan Am “firsts”, and operation advances.”

From Captain Bob Gandt, who flew for Pan Am 1965-1991 and author, Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am

“Jamie Baldwin has given us a treasure trove of Pan Am lore. Here is something for everyone — a concise history of the pioneering airline, a rich potpourri of Pan Am memorabilia, and, best of all, a nostalgic journey back to an age when the mighty Pan American ruled the skies.”

From Susanne (Strickland) Malm, Flight Attendant, 1968-1978

“…a carefully constructed timeline of Pan Am’s incredible record of firsts and aviation achievements… chock full of rare and nostalgic collector’s memorabilia… a veritable time capsule into which any reader may be gently transported…back to a time when flying was gracious, glamorous and eagerly anticipated by passengers and crew alike!”

From Pete Runnette, President, Pan Am Historical Foundation

“…a fine chronology of Pan Am’s pioneering history, with wonderful pictures to match – valuable to student or aviation aficionado alike, and browsing will bring back fond memories for employees or passengers, of air travel Pan Am style…”

From Carol and Fred Tomlinson, Pan Am Staff

“We would like to thank you for doing a marvelous job on the book, and for portraying Pan Am as the great airline that it was!  We are all extremely proud of its history and professionalism, and your book brought back many happy memories!”

From Barry Humphreys, Chairman, British Air Transport Association and former Director, Virgin Atlantic Airways

“No history of international aviation can be complete without including the amazing story of Pan American Airways. Pan Am was without doubt the industry’s leader for several decades; more than just another airline. Jamie Baldwin’s fascinating collection of photographs and chronology captures the story of Pan Am brilliantly, from the early days, thru the glory years to the sad end. It is a story well worth telling.”

This book is published and is available for purchase from the publisher, BlueWater Press.  Please follow this link for ordering information:  http://www.bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am.html

It is also available from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Pan-American-World-Airways-Airline/dp/1604520469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381237003&sr=8-1&keywords=pan+american+world+airways+-+images+of+a+great+airline

From the Preface:

I hope readers will enjoy seeing these items that were representative of Pan American’s glory years and that this book will find its place alongside the many books already written about Pan American World Airways.

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part Two: Crew Training and Acceptance Flight

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

Part Two:  Crew Training and Acceptance Flight.

Crew Training

The next step in getting Snow Leopard into operation was getting a crew together to fly the Boeing 747SP.  Because of the aircraft selection and their availability, it was decided to hire former pilots of Pan American World Airways.  The decision was perfectly logical in that Pan Am pilots had many hours of experience in the 747SP – some had actually flown the aircraft when it was with Pan Am – had experience operating in the geographic area of the intended operation, and had the savvy and know-how in dealing with unexpected circumstances or conditions that would be inherent in such an operation.

Captain Sherman Carr, a very experienced Pan Am pilot was one who received a call from a former colleague about an opportunity to be “an aviation pioneer again”.  According to Captain Carr, the offer was to operate a new 747 service for the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan.  He was told the route to be flown and that the pay would be minimal but with generous per diem and off-time.  After some research he made his decision.  He learned that Tajikistan

“. . .is magnificently beautiful with a major fertile valley with a mild climate that grows cotton  surrounded by majestic peaks rising 18 to 20 thousand feet and populated by their national symbol, the snow leopard. I also learned that (the capital) Dushanbe is on the old “Silk Road” route used by Marco Polo when he brought back to Italy, the secrets of making spaghetti from China. The neighboring cities of Tashkent and Samarkand conjured up images of wondrous bazaars and really old world treasures of the Mongol Empire and kabobs made from Yak. I was hooked. Like the line from the Clint Eastwood movie: “do you feel lucky?” I did. I called back and signed up”

It was the same for all the pilots who received “the call”.  A chance to be an aviation pioneer was too great an opportunity to turn down.

Once the group was assembled, refresher training was arranged at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Miami, Florida.  The pilots were former Pan Amers and most were over 60 years of age.  While that would present a problem in the United States, it did not for Tajikistan.  And as is well known, pilots over the age of 60 have a near zero accident rate.

Pan Am International Flight Academy

Pan Am International Flight Academy

At the academy was a 747SP simulator and the pilots were put through a rigorous training program that brought them up to speed on changes to the aircraft, flight rules and also fined-tuned their instrument piloting skills.  At the same time, flight attendants from Tajik Air were undergoing training for the 747SP.  These flight attendants were supposedly the “cream of the crop” from Tajik Air but with experience limited to smaller aircraft such as the TU-154 (an old 3-engine aircraft that looked remarkably like at Boeing 727).

Lobby of Flight Academy (Photo by Priyamshah)

Lobby of Flight Academy (Photo by Priyamshah)

Simulator (Photo by Priyamshah)

Simulator
(Photo by Priyamshah)

While the pilots were progressing well in the refresher training, it was not the case for the flight attendants.

A former Pan Am purser, Gunilla Crawford, was working in contracts at the Pan Am Flight Academy when she received word that the Tajik Air flight attendants were to receive training on the 747SP.  Upon their arrival, she immediately discovered a serious problem:  their English speaking ability was extremely limited!  According to Purser Crawford:

“I had created a training program for the Tajik flight attendants and we started with the 747SP aircraft:  the doors, how to arm, disarm, open and close in normal and emergency mode. The first day was spent studying the manual; the second day in the mock- up; the third day back in the classroom.  But I soon realized it would take five days to learn the doors and it would take months to teach procedures.

 “Nothing I tried worked with the students, mainly because of the language barrier, and partly because of the size of the aircraft. The 747 SP had two aisles vs. the TU-154 single aisle; oxygen masks in the overhead on the747SP vs. two 5” tall oxygen tanks in the aft of the TU-154 cabin, held in place on the floor, standing up! (When we had a delay in Dushanbe, I went onboard and saw the difference.)”

A flight academy employee who spoke Russian eventually acted as an interpreter, but it became painfully clear that this group would not be able to staff a 747SP.  Although kind, interested and friendly, they were overwhelmed by the size of the 747SP.

This problem was not only a concern to Purser Crawford, but also to the pilots who were undergoing refresher training at the same time and who had observed the Tajik flight attendants first hand.  A solution to the problem was needed, and  according to Captain Carr, after meeting with aviation officials from Tajikistan who were present, it was decided to hire some “real” flight attendants from the former Pan Am.  Purser Crawford, was in contact with a group of “experienced and adventurous” former cabin crew colleagues, and very soon thereafter, a lot of familiar faces began appearing at the Pan Am Flight Academy.

Training went into full swing for all concerned and soon it was finished.  For the cabin crew, it was decided that two or three experienced Pan Am flight attendants would be assigned to each flight.  The remaining cabin crew positions would be filled by the Tajik Air flight attendants as “trainees”.  The goal, under the supervision and direction of the Pan Am crew, was the Tajik crew to become qualified to “staff and run” a 747SP flight.

However, there was one more thing:  Teamwork

From Captain Carr:

Being on a flight crew is a wonderful thing. It is a team effort. Pan Am had always encouraged working as a team. That teamwork was designed to save lives. Although the duties of the cabin staff are the care and feeding of passengers, their real job is to save lives in an emergency. They operate the emergency equipment and are trained to get people out of the aircraft as quickly as possible.  Good communication is essential. As a pilot, I have always appreciated and respected the job the flight attendants do and made sure they knew it”.

 In observing the training of the Tajik flight attendants, good communication was non-existent.  To alleviate this problem, Captain Carr suggested the Tajiks should see more of America other than their hotel and the flight academy and invited them and his fellow pilots to a luncheon at his home.  During the luncheon he made a very important observation:

“[At] almost any cookout in America, guests would pitch in to help with the food and drinks and have a party. Not so with the Tajiks. It became apparent that the concept of initiative did not exist in their culture. They would smile and do anything we asked of them but took no initiative. In an airplane emergency, this can be deadly so we proceeded to see what we could do about it. This was the first chance the pilots and cabin staff had the opportunity to talk in an informal setting. We encouraged them to help themselves and to pass things along to their fellow crewmembers.

 “We also started to find out why they didn’t talk to each other. They were all from Tajikistan but some were from various mountain tribes that were at odds with each other. Others were Russian, or Iranian or Tajik valley people. Apparently they had been chosen not because of their good English or flying experience but because they were related to government officials.  This was also meant to be a representative group of the Tajik population. While I thought this was a very democratic move, I later learned this diversity was meant to make it less likely that a jealous faction would [cause problems with the operation].

 “The lunch went very well and the English phrases, “more beer”, “more vodka” were pronounced much better. I also made arrangements to charter a water taxi for a cruise to see the Bahia Mar Yachting Center and also homes along the waterway.  [At the end of the tour] and before returning to Miami, the Tajiks stopped by our home to thank us. Much to my relief they were now all smiling and talking to each other and acting like a flight crew. That lunch was one of the best investments I ever made.

With the training finished and the Tajiks fresh from their team-building experience, everyone began leaving Miami for London to start the operation.  Captain Carr was asked to make the “acceptance flight” of Snow Leopard.  He accepted.

Acceptance Flight

The acceptance flight is a critical part of the delivery process of an aircraft to an airline.  Once the aircraft is accepted and delivered, anything that is discovered wrong with the aircraft becomes the responsibility of the airline.  Inspections and the acceptance flight should ensure that this does not happen.  Snow Leopard was flown to London by a United Airlines supervisory pilot and crew.  Upon arrival, Captain Carr and his crew met the aircraft and began the task of inspecting the aircraft and its logs and maintenance records and carrying out the acceptance flight.  The aircraft looked great with a fresh paint job with Tajik Air livery.  Once everything was signed off, and the walk-around inspection complete, the aircraft was pronounced airworthy and Captain Carr and his crew boarded the aircraft to begin the flight.

However, once on board, there was a surprise awaiting them:  The aircraft was full of people!  Normally such a flight involves the necessary minimum crew members.  Not this one.  The press was on board, as were Tajik Air officials, the Minister of Aviation of Tajikistan and management staff.  In fact station personnel and baggage handlers were also on board!

From Captain Carr:

“[I had] a quiet conversation with the [Minister of Aviation] to make sure that carrying all these people on a test flight was okay. I learned that wonderful Russian phrase: ‘kharasho’ (‘no problem’).  Since he was the law for our Tajikistan operating certificate, it was like getting the word directly from God. 

“I climbed into my seat in the cockpit. The United pilot looked really nervous and seemed a few shades deeper red than normal. He indicated his concern about all these people on board, and I said ‘kharasho’, took the clip board from him and signed as Pilot in Command. He looked relieved. I reminded him that United was still responsible for any maintenance items until I signed the aircraft acceptance form.  The flight went smoothly, the aircraft was perfect and everyone enjoyed the tour of the English countryside as we put the airplane through its paces. We returned to Heathrow and I made my first landing in a real 747 in about a year and a half. As we came in on final approach, I realized that we had almost all the top brass aboard, the new crewmembers and a whole planeload of people who had never been on a 747 before. 

“If you’re are flying a 747 correctly, on speed and according to ‘the book’, it normally makes a very nice landing. Once in a while, when conditions are just right and you are very lucky, the touch down is so smooth that you don’t realize you are on the ground until the speedbrake handle comes up as it automatically reacts to a microswitch on the landing gear as the wheels touch ground. This was one of those landings. 

“It is a Russian custom to applaud after a landing. But I didn’t think this applause was for landing, rather giving thanks to be alive.   However, during the flight we kept the door open for the bigwigs to view the cockpit and after landing I heard the cheers and applause from behind. Winning an Oscar for an actor couldn’t feel any better than how that landing and applause felt to me.  As we all left the aircraft my new bosses kept congratulating me as though I was the greatest pilot in the world. What could I say?  I just smiled and secretly thanked Boeing.”

Gunilla Crawford, having arrived in London to handle flight service, also had a look at Snow Leopard prior to delivery:

“The day came when we were to see the plane for the first time. It was a rainy overcast day, but there she was as beautiful as ever, sitting on the wet tarmac. We inspected the galleys, the equipment  and planned the last details, now that a few months of training and planning  had come together and the real adventure was to begin. “Starving” for flying since the demise of Pan Am . . .we were all raring to go, as this would be the “real” thing………..or so we thought.”

It was now time to get ready for operations.   Ticket sales and crew scheduling were at the top of the agenda. This and stories about some memorable flights by Snow Leopard will be coming in Part Three of the Story of Snow Leopard.

End of Part Two

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part One: The Aircraft and the Operation

Snow Leopard-2comp

6-cat-profile-714

Snow Leopard:  a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, mainly in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan (photograph by Steve Winter)

Part One:  The Aircraft and the Operation

The Aircraft

This is the story about an aircraft named Snow Leopard, which was a Boeing 747SP that was leased by Tajik Air, the national airline of the Republic of Tajikistan, then a newly independent former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia. The aircraft was operated exclusively on the international routes of Tajik Air and gave that airline a presence in London, UK, Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan.  The operation was controlled and managed by a management company in London, Tajik Air Limited.  This is what made this operation unique.  What also made it unique was that Snow Leopard was crewed by former pilots and flight attendants of Pan American World Airways, the former great airline that ceased operations in December, 1991.

The operation started with Snow Leopard’s departure from London for Dushanbe, Tajikistan in December 1993.  It ended in February 1994 when the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, the aircraft’s owner and lessor. What happened during these three months are stories of adventure, bravery, comedy, intrigue, loyalty and teamwork.  And they will be told in the following posts by those who were there, the pilots, flight attendants and the London management staff.

As background, the Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747 which was designed for ultra-long-range flights. The “SP” stands for “Special Performance”.  Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger vertical stabilizer, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.

Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the 747SP was designed to meet a 1973 joint request from Pan Am and Iran Air, who were looking for a high-capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover Pan Am’s New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air’s planned Tehran–New York route. The aircraft also was intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011.

The 747SP first entered service with Pan Am in 1976. The aircraft was later acquired by VIP and government customers, but sales did not meet the expected 200 units, and production ultimately totaled 45 aircraft.

While in service, the 747SP set several aeronautical performance records, including three record-setting round-the-world flights, two operated by Pan Am and the third by United.

From Captain Sherman Carr, one of the former Pan Am pilots who flew Snow Leopard:

 “The airplane that was to be used for this operation was a Boeing 747SP.  * * *  The plane was originally developed for Pan Am to be able to operate non-stop from the U.S. to Hong Kong and be able to stay aloft for over 15 hours. It was actually a regular 747 with upstairs lounge seating but shortened by about 48 feet to make it lighter and additional fuel tanks for longer range. If it’s not loaded with full fuel for extended range flights, the aircraft actually scoots like a hot rod and will outperform any WWII or Korean conflict fighter aircraft and is a lot of fun to fly.  It will roll or loop or do most of the maneuvers you see at airshows but of course this is not authorized so no pilot would ever tell you he had done those things. For Dushanbe, surrounded by mountains in all directions, it was the perfect choice due to its ability to climb quickly, safely and be on its way in a timely manner and still carry about 260 people with an extended first class.”

Snow Leopard, Manufacturer’s Serial Number 21649, Serial 373 was first delivered to Pan American World Airways on May 11, 1979 registered as N540PA and named Clipper White Falcon.  It was renamed Clipper Flying Arrow on August 1, 1979 and later renamed Clipper Star of the Union on January 1, 1980. One year later, on January 1, 1981, the aircraft became China Clipper.

On February 12, 1986, as part of Pan Am’s sale of its Pacific Routes, N540PA was acquired by United Airlines.  The registration was changed to N149UA on June 1, 1986.  It was under this registration that the aircraft operated for Tajik Air, pictured below:

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

After the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, it was bought by the Brunei Government and re-registered as V8-JBB.  It was then bought by the Government of Bahrain on December 24, 1998 and registered as A9C-HMH (below, left).  Today Snow Leopard is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, registered as VQ-BMS (below, right, photo by Wong Chi Lam). She is still in operation.

747SP Bahrain Royal Flight     747SP VQ-BMS-Las-Vegas-Sands-Corporation

The Operation

Starting a new service in any market requires a great deal of research and planning.  There must be a suitable aircraft.  Government approvals must be in place.  Airport access, slots (if required), ground handling services and airport facilities (check-in desks, etc) must be obtained.  On the commercial side, the new service needs to be marketed, publicized and tickets sold.  Other details include setting up the ticket and operations offices, arranging catering, publishing an In-Flight magazine and printing safety information cards, timetables, paper tickets, baggage tickets, promotional materials and stationary.

For Tajik Air, however, there was one very important requirement missing: an operating base in London and sufficient infrastructure to crew and maintain a Boeing 747SP aircraft.  That presented a huge problem as the civil aviation structure of Tajkistan was completely inexperienced in intercontinental operations.  In fact, Tajik Air was created by the breaking-up of the Soviet Union and the then national carrier Aeroflot’s leaving of some old Russian-built aircraft (mostly TU-154s) for use by Tajik Air as the new national air carrier of Tajikistan.  Setting up a London base would seem impossible to achieve given the limited resources of Tajikistan.  However, through the foresight and creativeness of a few airline experts in London, the requirement was met.

To establish the necessary infrastructure so that Tajik Air could operate flights to/from London, a third-party UK management company, Tajik Air Limited, was formed.  Its purpose was to operate international flights on behalf of Tajik Air.  The company would obtain and maintain the aircraft and crew, organize the marketing and selling of the flights and essentially operate the flights.  This would be accomplished using Tajikistan’s Air Operator’s Certificate and Tajik Air’s call-sign and airline code.   Tajikistan committed to funding the new service and also obtaining the required government permissions for the operation.

How would this operation be viable and profitable?  The route of primary interest to Tajik Air was the London (Heathrow) (“LHR”)-Dushanbe (“DYU”) sector.  Operating that sector as an Origin-Destination route presented problems in that there was little, if any, traffic between the two points.  The question was how to fill an aircraft with 260 seats?  The answer:  Offer service between LHR and points beyond DYU.  This was to be accomplished using rights under the Sixth Freedom of the Air.

The Freedoms of the Air, established by the Chicago Conference of 1944, are a set of commercial aviation rights granting a country’s airlines the privilege of entering and landing in another country’s airspace.  The table below illustrates these Freedoms of the Air:

airfreedom

In the case of Tajik Air, the Third and Fourth Freedoms were the operative.  The former gives the “Home” (Tajikistan) country the rights to carry commercial traffic (passengers/cargo/mail, etc) to another country; the latter gives the “Home” country the rights to carry commercial traffic from that other country to home.  These rights are generally agreed-to between the “Home” country and the other country in the form of a Bilateral Agreement or an Air Services Agreement.  By using Third and Fourth Freedom rights, a Sixth Freedom operation can be created.  It is similar to a hub operation with the home country being in the middle of the operation between two different countries.

For Tajik Air, the beyond points selected were Delhi, India (“DEL”) and Karachi, Pakistan (“KHI”) due to the large number of Indians and Pakistanis living in the UK.  The schedule would work like this:  Tajik Air departs from LHR with a planeload of passengers on a Fourth Freedom flight to DYU.  Upon arrival in DYU, those few passengers destined for DYU disembark and the rest stay on board.  The flight then departs DYU with a new flight number on a Third Freedom flight for DEL or KHI.  Upon turning around in DEL/KHI, with a new planeload of passengers, the flight becomes a Fourth Freedom to DYU and from DYU, with another flight number, Third Freedom to LHR.  By operating this schedule, Tajik Air could fill the seats of Snow Leopard, and compete in a highly competitive market by offering good service with low fares.  In order to operate this schedule, Bilateral or Air Services agreements were required for scheduled traffic between Tajikistan and India/Pakistan in addition to the UK.

The published timetable shown below illustrates this operation.  Baggage tags are also shown.

Timetable Front     Timetable Inside

Baggage Tags

As outlined above, there were other details necessary for the operation.  For the aircraft, copies of the In-Flight magazine and emergency information cards were printed and are illustrated below:

Inflight Magazine0001     Inflight Magazine0002

Inflight Magazine0003     Inflight Magazine0004

Emergency Card0001comp     Emergency Card0001comp

Additionally, as part of the pre-launch publicity, an article was put in a magazine for business travelers about the new service:

LHR Mag-0001     LHR Mag-0002

For ticket sales, an office was set up in Kensington, London and a general sales agent was appointed in Karachi and Delhi.  In addition a large poster was printed for display at the ticketing offices with an image of Snow Leopard in the air:

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

The next steps in the launch of Tajik Air’s new service to London involved recruiting and training flight crews and taking delivery of the aircraft.  This will be coming in Part Two of the Story of Snow Leopard.

End of Part One

My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part Four: The Suez Canal

Part Four:  The Suez Canal

Our transit of the Suez Canal began at 0100 hours (1:00 a.m.).  By daybreak, the convoy was well underway and I had the opportunity to see the sights on both sides of the canal.

From my newsletter of November 1990:

“After Cairo I got an opportunity to transit the Suez Canal on a merchant ship.  This was a fascinating experience primarily because of the importance of the role of the Suez Canal in world commerce and its role in history.  It is the only fast way to get between Europe and the Middle East/Far East by sea.  On one side is the Sinai Desert and the other side is developed land, much of which is used by the Egyptian military.  During the transit I saw many remnants of the Egypt-Israel wars, including blown up and abandoned buildings, abandoned airbases and abandoned vehicles. 

“Ships transiting the canal are formed into convoys and are guided and controlled by the Egyptians from the time they arrive in Port Said (the Mediterranean entrance to the canal also known as “Port Marlboro”) to the time they are released at Port Suez (at the top of the Gulf of Suez).  These people include immigration, health, customs and canal officials, vendors, agents and their assistants, electricians (for the canal floodlight) and mooring laborers (the “boatmen”).  They can hold up or expedite a canal transit at will.  Additionally, when the ship is moored in Port Said awaiting transit, “bumboats” containing vendors selling souvenirs surround the ship, trying to get on board.

“For the ship’s master, the object is to get through the canal as quickly as possible.  And, one of the best means of getting expeditiously through the transit is to prevent the occurrence of any reason to delay the transit.  This is accomplished by giving the canal officials and others a “present”, which is usually a carton of Marlboro cigarettes (in the red box).  The giving of “presents” is usually preceded by someone saying, “Do you have my present, Captain?” There is a saying among those who have transited the canal:  “Give ’em a carton of Marlboros and things move fast”. Otherwise a document may be lost, or something could be “discovered” wrong with the ship that could slow down the transit.

“On the ship I was on, the Suez Canal Authority suggested that the ship’s trim was not in line with canal standards.  The problem was resolved when the master passed out the cartons of Marlboros (the Egyptians want only Marlboros, reds, in the box; anything else, especially Kools, would make them unhappy).  On my ship, the master gave out a total of about thirty cartons, which is about average.  Why all the cigarettes?  Cigarettes, especially Marlboros, are like currency.  And incomes of some of these people (especially laborers and vendors) are so low that selling cigarettes to Marlboro-hungry Egyptians is a lucrative source of income.  (While in Cairo, it seemed everyone who was smoking was smoking Marlboros (reds, in the box).)  Just before we got underway, a crewman on the pilot boat bringing the Suez pilot was yelling at our ship, “Captain, Captain, seegarets pleeze, seegarets for food!”

Besides cigarettes the Egyptians usually manage to get American-made toiletries and similar goods from the masters of the ships transiting the canal.  In addition, interestingly enough, the canal pilot can also get a special “present” of a bottle of liquor, usually top end.  Ships that regularly transit the canal have a bonded storage containing these goods.  It is also interesting to note that the cigarettes given out are marked “For shipboard use only” on the box.

The canal is only wide enough for one-way traffic.  At Great Bitter Lake, about two-thirds the way down, both the southbound and northbound convoys rendezvous.  Once the southbound convoy has exited the canal, the northbound proceeds on to Port Said. The southbound convoy proceeds to, and ends at, Port Suez, where the Egyptian pilot and the boatmen disembark the ship. The ships in the convoy then break up, heading into the Gulf of Suez and eventually the Red Sea.

Below:  Views from the bridge of the Ashley Lykes.

Suez-10-eb     Suez-5-eb

Below:  Sinai (east) side of the canal.  “Road to Nowhere” in left picture; military facility in the right.  Note the Mosque, lower left corner.

Suez-6-eb     Suez-8-eb

Below:  West side of the canal.  Left picture shows crater created by a blast.  Note the unfinished structures in the right picture.

Suez-11     Suez-4

Below:  Contrast the east side (left) and west side (right) of the canal.  Note the Mosque in left picture.

Suez-3     Suez-2

Below:  Goods on display for sale brought on board by the boatmen (left).  On the right, the Suez pilot.

Suez-boatmen goods     Suez-pilot

Below:  Ships at anchor awaiting the southbound convoy in Great Bitter Lake (left).  At right, a Mosque in Port Suez.

Great Bitter Lake anchorage-2     Port Suez-5

Below:  The convoy breaking up as it enters the Gulf of Suez (left).  At right is a map of the canal.

Port Suez-2     Suez_canal_map

From my newsletter:

“A few more observations about life in Egypt:  Traffic is not regulated as in the States.  Signals are only advisory.  During rush hour (which seems to be all day), traffic police try to control the cars, with mild success – sometimes the cars obey.  Additionally, it is not unusual to see mule drawn carts in the middle of city streets.

“I also got the impression that drivers, when given driving lessons, were taught first on the use of the horn, and how to get the most out of it.  Horns were heard at all hours, even when there was no need for them.  The message given by a horn is “get out of the way”.  And when someone does not get out of the way an accident results.  And when an accident occurs, it is not resolved in the usual way by exchanging insurance company names.  Not in Egypt.  First fault has to be determined.  And this is accomplished by shouting matches between the two parties involved.  But it is not only two people shouting to each other.  The shouting is so loud, a crowd gathers, picks sides, and joins the debate.  I actually witnessed this in an accident between a bus and a taxicab.  To their credit, the passengers did not get involved, just the drivers and the onlookers.” 

I found visiting Cairo and transiting the Suez Canal a fascinating and most memorable experience; something to be remembered for a long time.  I do not think much has changed vis-a-vis the Suez Canal transit based on recent Google searches.  However, I did observe, and this is back in 1990, that Egypt’s history was pivotal in the development of the world’s civilizations.  The country is rich in resources and tradition, and should be a great place to visit.  However, things need to be fixed, and while not commenting on the current political situation, I do hope it is resolved soon, so that Egypt can eventually become economically and politically healthy and people can visit and enjoy what Egypt has to offer.

End of Part Four

End of my Egypt Adventure

My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part Three: Port Said

Part Three:  Port Said

Part Three of my Egypt Adventure began on the third day when I left Cairo for Port Said and my transit of the Suez Canal aboard the Ashley Lykes.  I was picked up by two representatives from the ship’s Port Said agents whose sole purpose was to get me to Port Said, processed through immigration and on board the ship.  The trip took me through the Egyptian countryside, passing through several towns and villages.  We made a couple of stops where one of the agents delivered packages of what appeared to contain American-made toiletries and similar goods, and cartons of cigarettes to various shops.  When we finally arrived in Port Said, I was ushered to the offices of the shipping agent, where I was to remain for about four hours until I was to be taken to the ship.

Below are photos of one of the roads en-route to  Port Said, a town where we stopped with the goods and scenes of downtown Port Said:

Road to Port Said-1     Village nr ps-1

Port Said-6     Port Said-2

Below is a picture of the entrance to the office of the shipping agency of my ship (left) and a picture of my handlers (right).

Port Said-4     Port Said-12

Below:  Port Said’s waterfront (left) and the Suez Canal Authority headquarters (right).

Port Said-7     Port Said-8

After leaving the agent’s office, we went directly to Egyptian immigration to process me out of the country.  When we arrived there was a huge line in the waiting hall but somehow we bi-passed that and went to the office of one of the more senior immigration officials.  He dutifully studied my passport, gave it the appropriate stamps and cleared me to depart.  As we left, the agent shook hands with the immigration official and I noticed that part of the handshake included a wad of cash.  The cash was what is known as “baksheesh”.

After boarding a launch, we proceeded to the ship, going through a maze of anchored ships of various sizes and shapes, including a Greek frigate, a Cypriot cruise ship, a multitude of tankers and other cargo ships.

Below:  The Greek frigate Elli and Cypriot cruise ship Princesa Marissa at anchor off Port Said’s waterfront.

Greek warship Elli     Princesa Marissa

Below:  A tanker at anchor and a local harbor ferry.

Suez-9-eb     Port Said-15

Below:  S.S. Ashley Lykes at anchor.  Note the bumboats lingering by the gangway.  The master raised the gangway to keep vendors from boarding his ship.

Suez-3-eb     Suez-Ashley Lykes-1

Once on board the Ashley Lykes, I was greeted by the master who escorted me to his cabin where he added my name to the crew roster as an engineering officer(!).  He told me that the immigration people might be coming on board before departure and therefore I had to be accounted for.  He put the crew roster on a table in the reception area of his cabin and placed on top of it a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, “to keep them happy”, he said.

The next day, at 0100 hours, we got underway for our transit of the Suez Canal.  In Part Four, my trip down the Suez Canal. Watch this Space!

End of Part Three