Friday, 16 November 2012

My Memories of The Arbaminch Airport and the D.C3 Aircraft

It was a rather unassuming Airport in nineteen seventies, nothing more than a dirt-track that served as a runway, a sock and a radio antenna that was raised on a pole. Samson, my classmate in class seventh and eighth was also the airport manager’s son and he would often take me to the airport or rather airstrip. In those days the aircraft that frequented the airstrip were the D.C3s.,the double canvass winged aircraft that served as a crop sprayer, and the few single engine  aircraft that seated six passengers and had the legend Admass Air emblazoned on the sides. In those days all communication between the pilot and the airport was via the Short Wave radio band and could be heard on ordinary radio sets.
Of all the aircraft that landed and took off from the airstrip, the D.C3 was the most impressive! Just before the aircraft landed, the pilot would call up the Airport Manager, the Airstrip would be cleared of the animals grazing around the airstrip and the D.C3. would touch the edge of the airstrip trailing a rather long trail of dust behind it. The D.C3 squatted on its tail with a nose up attitude which seemed to be rather strange because while parked, the D.C3 had a nose pointing up towards the blue sky. Samson often took me on a tour of the plane and it did look odd walking up an incline from the tail towards the cockpit. This plane also had a tiny chemical W.C. at the tail. My memory of flying in this plane goes back a further few years when at the age of three or four we flew from Mekele to Asmara. It was a most uneventful flight (except for the tendency of the plane to drop a few feet each time it hit an air pocket), and there were only four of us, both my parents, my brother and I.
The twin piston engines of the D.C3 had a distinct beat and it never flew at a very high altitude. You could see the D.C3 pass over the town in a rather sedate manner. In those days, the largest aircraft that could land on the airstrip in Arbaminch was the D.C3. The plane had seats that could be folded over to make space for the cargo. I often observed that besides sundry parcels, odds and ends, the aircraft was loaded with corn of all things! The only time I was aware of an accident involving this plane happened when a D.C3. plane took off with a full load of cargo including corn, and for some reason failed to clear the tree tops in the forest which started after the perimeter of the airport. The reasons of the crash were never clear, but the sound of music could be clearly heard on the radio coming from the cockpit of the plane. Was it engine failure, or was it that the aircraft was overloaded beyond its payload capacity was never made clear. All we knew was that two young pilots had lost their lives in the crash.
4297 ET-ABR Ethiopian Operating flight ET 231 to Addis Ababa sometimes spelled Addis Abeba Lalibela Ethiopia 13 October 1974 Christian Hanuise
The wreckage of the plane could be seen from the main road just a few kilometres from the town, that was till the trees grew taller. I remember visiting the crash site with my father and brother after the crash had taken place. The place was still smouldering in some places, and debris was scattered all over the place, cables, instrument panels and melted blobs of aluminium littered the place. It felt really bad to see this rather beautiful plane in such a state. Of  the Pilots, nothing could be seen ( they had been airlifted to Addis Abeba in another plane). One of the pilots had survived, but he passed away en route because of serious head injuries.
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