In the months of Covid 19 lockdown, one airline has endeavoured to be part of the solution to stranded South Africans at a number of unfrequented African ports.
Cemair, South Africa's most personal airline, has launched missions throughout Africa and last week they went further than our own continent, to the most northern corner of Iraq in the Kurdistan territories.
Felix Gosher, one of the organisers of the Repat Flight with Captain Tino Booysen in late June, the planning phase of the Mission.
The Repat Flight was a community alliance with Cemair to alleviate the suffering of passengers stranded at three main cities including Amman, Jordan, Erbil and Basra in Iraq. Over 250 sponsors chipped in, led by Felix Gosher to raise a total in excess of eighty thousand rand, which although in-terms of a three-million-rand mission was but raindrops in the ocean towards the expense of the mission... the community spirit and effort itself raised awareness and connected the Repatriation plight to the 'Leave No One Behind' initiative run by Stephne Churchill and Raive Bird, who were stranded themselves in Iraq.
The Jordanian passengers
The Palestinian passengers
Miles and son Parker pushing aircraft out of hangar before the mission
In a combined effort, the interests of 80 South Africans and 53 Middle Easterners were merged to assemble a routing from Johannesburg to Entebbe to Khartoum where eleven Sudanese passengers were repatriated, then to Amman where Palestinians and Jordanians disembarked and South Africans boarded.
The crew arriving for duty in Erbil to an applause
Onwards to Erbil, Iraq for the overnight. Collecting more passengers, the following day to fly to Basra for more and then to Djibouti for fuel. From there it was onwards to Entebbe for the crew change and fuel and finally to Johannesburg. They collected South Africans from Amman, Erbil, Basra and Entebbe in the round trip.
A big thank you to South African Ambassador Ebrahim Saley in Jordan for key influence in the issuance of clearances and permission acquisition in a highly technical and political environment affected to moments of standstill due to the Pandemic. Other key contributors include Mr Matome at the South African Embassy in Jordan, Mr Muthana at the Iraqi Embassy in Pretoria, Mr Zaid representing the Palestinian Students, Sharon Grinker In Israel and Ambassador of Jordan His Excellency Ibrahim Awewdeh who through contacts in two governments, arranged for the safe transit of 15 Palestinian students who had been studying in Newcastle, Kwa Zulu Natal before the lockdown, to transit from Amman to Ramallah through the Israeli border at Allenby Bridge without hassle.
A huge congratulation to Miles van der Molen and the Cemair Team for an expert extraction of our nationals from extremely dire circumstances in a faraway land, flying a regional Jet way beyond its optimal range, in a 'lollipop' track 'around the houses', covering a distance of more than one third of the earth's circumstance, to repatriate 133 people from six nations.
Safely back in SA
Congratulations to the Crew including:
Captain Schalk van der Merwe
First Officer Chris Botha
Cabin Attendant Natasha Benson Cabin Attendant Roxanne Louisa Booysen and Engineer Jan Taljaard, who flew first Sector Jhb to Entebbe, where they then strategically remained in Entebbe, in a phase of crew rest to renew their duty hours for the last stretch, while:
Captain Tino Booysen, First Officer Leonard Oberholzer, Cabin Attendant Andre de Beer, Cabin Attendant James Beukes and Engineer Jan Taljaard who was later also joined by Cabin Attendant Mellissa Ellis, who was stuck in Khartoum in another contract, flew: Entebbe- Khartoum- Amman - Erbil Overnight for crew and passenger transit rest.
The next afternoon, after sufficient rest they flew Erbil - Basra - Djibouti - Entebbe from where the first crew took over and completed the mission back to Johannesburg.
There's definitely something special about that chap down at hangar six and it seems to be the size of his heart.