Sunday, February 26, 2012

More on the Secret 1982 Aerolineas Argentinas Flights - The Four Flights to Libya

In www.clarin.com's 21Feb12 edition, the third and final installment appeared on Aerolineas Argentinas' secret flights to get arms for the Argentine military in the 1982 war with Great Britain.
  
WEAPONS SHORTAGE

With the war between Argentina and Great Britain several weeks old, Argentina
encountered increasing difficulty getting arms as most western nations refused to sell war materiel to the South American country and many others were reluctant to get involved in the dispute. 

As an example of the problems this caused, on 04May82, two Fuerza Aerea Argentina Dassault Super Etendard fighter jets launched French-made Exocet missiles at the British Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield with one of them striking the ship leading to a fire which disabled it.  However, the French had an arms embargo in place against Argentina limiting the number of highly-advanced Exocets the FAA had at its disposal to the few it had on hand in its inventory.   

NON-WESTERN ARMS SOURCE

As a result, Argentina started searching for arms in non-western nations and came to an agreement with Libya's Moammar Khadafi on 14May82 for the provision of weapons, mainly missiles and landmines.   

Immediately an Argentine delegation was put in place to coordinate the supply effort led by a muslim theologian from Tucuman, Argentina, Eduardo Sarme, who spoke perfect Arabic. 

FIRST FLIGHT TO TRIPOLI - 27May82

Captain Luis Cuniberti commanded the 707 that evening but did not know the aircraft's destination until, already airborne, a military intelligence officer on board told him they were going to "Tripoli" as casually and naturally as a New Yorker would say "Long Island" !

As with the earlier flights to Israel, the aircraft stopped in Recife, Brazil for refuelling and continued on its trek across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. 

All was fine until air traffic control in the Canaries called for the 707 to identify itself.  The intelligence officer instructed Captain Cuniberti to maintain radio silence and not reply but the Canaries' controller insisted.  He then informed the 707 crew that Morocco was denying permission for the aircraft to enter its airspace and that fighters would be scrambled to intercept it !   The Argentine intelligence officer insisted that they continue forward but soon thereafter two fighters showed up nearby forcing the 707 to turn back.  The intelligence officer wanted to return to Recife but they did not have enough fuel to cross the Atlantic again !  Captain Cuniberti turned back to the Canaries where they landed.     

Two crew members, presumably shaken by the appearance of the two Moroccan fighter jets, asked to be excused from the rest of the mission !  A few hours later, the captain was able to gain authorization to fly to Tripoli (the article did not say who granted the permission) and the flight continued, landing in the Libyan capital at 8:15pm on 28May.  The 707 was towed to a huge hangar full of Soviet-built cargo aircraft where it remained for the night.  

The next morning, the aicraft was full of Soviet-built SAM-6 and SAM-7 (surface-to-air missiles) without any empty space anywhere in the plane.  It took off seven tons over gross but made it to Recife and El Palomar Air Force Base near Buenos Aires that same day.

SECOND FLIGHT TO TRIPOLI - 29May82 

The same day the first flight arrived back from Libya, the second flight departed Buenos Aires to Tripoli.  Arriving uneventfully, there was a delay of a couple of days waiting for the arms to arrive at the airport.   When they finally arrived, the Libyans took the boxes of explosives to the 707 without even weighing them and the 707 crew carefully distributed them as best they could to maintain the aircraft's crucial weight-and-balance.  The plane arrived back in Argentina without any problems.  The flights were becoming almost routine !

THIRD & FOURTH FLIGHTS TO TRIPOLI - 03Jun82 (?) & 06Jun82

The third flight was uneventful except the flight crew lied about its position several times and maintained lights off and radio silence to avoid detection. 

The fourth and final flight did have a scare though when the purser came to Captain Bernard who was in charge of the flight and said "I don't want to alarm you but I heard explosions in the back of the aircraft" !  The captain and purser dragged themselves back along the fuselage in the little space there was and heard rather loud explosions.  Finally, they could see what was happening:  The wooden boxes containing the mines were expanding as the aircraft climbed and pressurized causing the boxes to explode !  Captain Bernard commented that "I calmed down.  But not that much.  The plane was full of explosives!".  

There was not much they could do and they continued on to Recife and El Palomar.

CONCLUSION

The above flight was the last one by the Aerolineas Argentinas pilots as the war ended on June 14 with the British retaking the islands.  The pilots' bravery and the dangers they faced were recognized years later when they were given the status of War Veterans by the Argentine government.       

Sources: www.clarin.com & Wikipedia

6 comments:

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