It was a Saturday afternoon, 7th December 1974, and they were still working in the main hangar at Embakasi.
A Super VC10, 5Y-ADA was undergoing routine maintenance, which involved gear retraction tests. The empty aircraft, weighing some eighty tons, was supported by three high-lift jacks, positioned under the specially integrated jacking points, one under each wing and a third under the rear of the aircraft, below the engines.
A team of men were to adjust each jack, until the aircraft was level, it was a fairly routine performance and had been done many times in the past. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the mechanic operating the rear lack was inexperienced and failed to concentrate properly, resulting in his releasing the hydraulic pressure fully, causing the jack's cylinder to descend to its stop. The aircraft slipped off the jack tail-first, remained on the wing supporting jacks, and crashed to the floor of the hangar in a parody of the take-off attitude. The tail supporting jack had not fallen but, slipping, had penetrated the main engine beam which held two of the four Conway engines, damaging it beyond repair. Miraculously, no one had been hurt, as might have been the case if it had not been a Saturday afternoon, with few people on duty.
This was a blow to East African Airways in more than just an engineering sense. In 1974 the Hajj season occurred during December, together with the seasonal Christmas heavy bookings. Apart from the financial losses and immense loss of face when it became known that E.A.A. 'had dropped a Super VC10 on the hangar floor', the logistics of repairing the aircraft were overwhelming. It became probable that the damage may even be beyond the airliners capability to finance repairs when it was discovered that the British Aircraft Corporation did not carry such a major component in their spares inventory. The VC10 jigs had long been dismantled and the cost of a one-off engine beam would be astronomical.
Then someone remembered 5X-UVA. They had buried the remains of the burned out aircraft at Addis Ababa by the simple expedient of filling in the ditch in which she lay. What if the engine boom was still intact? Sadly the suggestion was countered by Cliff Sarginson, now assistant chief engineer, who had been responsible for blowing up the tangled debris of 5X-UVA with dynamite before the bulldozers covered up the remains. The explosions had completed the destruction of the tail and engine assembly, which had survived the fire. In the best engineering traditions, it was proposed that, since the right side of the 'spectacle-shaped' frame of the engine mounting was undamaged, a new left side might be made at Weybridge. With brilliant engineering skills on the part of the team led by an ex-BAC Weybridge engineer, who was brought out of retirement to lead the project, the new piece was joined to the existing half by splicing and plating. With a slightly heavier empty weight and requiring an adjustment to trim, 5Y-ADA rejoined the fleet, some weeks later than planned.
It was on a Twin Otter "Safari" flight in June 1969, that Captain 'Rusty' Bowker-Douglass and his passengers had an experience which none of them would ever forget
Bowker-Douglass had picked up his group in Twin Otter 5X-UVN, at Embakasi from an incoming BOAC flight, on 8th June. He departed for Nyeri, where everything went smoothly. The next day, they made their way up to Ferguson's Gulf camp, where the safari followed the enjoyable routine which was, by then, well established. They departed Lake Rudolf on the 11th June, for the fascinating flight west, across the Turkana and Karamoja country, to Chobe.
As he circled the lodge, Bowker-Douglass noticed three elephants in the tall grass, between the airstrip and the lodge, close to the taxi-way, which enabled pilots to park their aircraft in the hotel car park. After landing and taxying along the twisting taxi-way, they suddenly saw one of the elephant facing them, quite unafraid of the Twin Otter's whining PT6 engines. The elephant, a cow, was obviously very curious about the aircraft, and walked steadily and determinedly toward it.
The captain of the Twin Otter was faced with a problem for which his training had certainly failed to prepare him. He considered shutting down the engines and waiting out the encounter. His concern for the safety of the aeroplane and his passengers made him decide on another course of action. Unable to turn in the narrow space, he could do only one thing, as the giant form began to fill the windscreen, to the alarm of the passengers. Putting the propellers into reverse, he backed the Twin Otter down the narrow, twisting, taxi-way, unable to see anything other than the edge outside the left-hand window. As the taxiway widened onto the runway, Bowker-Douglass quickly selected take-off flap and, with feelings of great relief, they were airborne again within seconds.
A quick buzz over the heads of the elephant sent them off into the surrounding bush, and the area was clear for landing. They were soon all in the hotel bar, celebrating their escape from what must be the one and only occasion when an elephant has chased an aircraft back into the air - and when reverse pitch has been put to such use
I have fond memories of EAA and the staff were very friendly to work with. For me I always wanted to be an Air hostess.
When someone came to my High School, I took a chance asking all the necessary questions and later he left me with EAA's Time Table, brochures about the airline and types of aircraft. I studied all the information contained therein, and when the chance came for me for an interview, although I did not have the required height for I am much smaller, EAA interview Panel had no choice but to accept me as I was because I passed my interview well having prepared myself well in advance.
First of all I had a very good friend who was a stewardess and her name was Jane Nyingi. Another was Julie Tumwine, Lawrence, Beatrice Makame, Ruth Lutale and the Chief Stewardess Buchanan. For pilots I know most of them joined Middle East Airlines like Gulfair etc. and others retired. However, I would wish to get in touch with Capt. Cook and Capt. Poulsen. A couple of Pilots moved to work with various small airlines at Wilson Airport.
Well I really enjoyed working as a Stewardess for EAA in Twin Otters, DC3, F27, DC9, Comets and SVC10s. This was the ladder as a young Stewardess I had to climb and I did and was always happy, smiling and very hard working. My two former Chief Stewardesses Urna Buchanan and Ruth Lutale can ascertain that. My favourite airliners were SVC10s. In fact the morning of the 1972 crash I had just arrived from London in the SVC10 that later on crashed in Addis Ababa. During the flight after I was done in the Cabin, I sat on the last row taking the window seat starboard side and napped. I dreamed that we had crashed while flying over the Sahara desert and that I was the only survivor. I woke up from my dreams sweating and panting for air. One steward by the name of Mbuthia asked me what was wrong and I then related my dream to him. It was time to start serving breakfast and the matter was forgotten.
On arrival in Nairobi, I met with the next crew to take the aircraft to Addis and Rome. One of of my closest friends was Jane, who used to be so scared of flying, was on the same flight and as usual whenever we met going on different flights she would burst into tears of how scared she was and I would encourage her to stay on. Well she wasn't very lucky this time, for she died in the crash at Addis. Later on I came to learn that she had joined EAA in her cousin's place, who on finding she was expecting a baby, exchanged the place with her. So her parents were not paid her airline insurance.
I had several incidents while working for EAA and one such incident happened when the undercarriage of a F27 landing in Nairobi refused extend out for landing and we landed on the belly. Happily no one was hurt. The second incident was on a flight from London in a VC10 and the aircraft hit the severe air pockets making her twist and turn almost upside down for about five minutes. The chief steward, pushing the trolley full of drinks, was hit on the head and his neck almost disappeared while a passenger who happened to be on his way to the toilet, found himself trapped in the trolley in place of the drinks. Another steward had a broken arm. I was safe for some reason. Within no time the aircraft regained its proper position and we reported to the Captain about those hurt. We were met by ambulances and the whole works. We terminated our journey temporarily and stayed in a hotel in Frankfurt. Later on we learn that the passenger who got stuck in the trolley was cut out of it and managed to get away with only minor cuts here and there. The Chief Steward was put in a machine in hospital where his head was pulled and he regained his neck and the other steward had a cast on his arm. The following day we flew back to Nairobi without further incident.
The third incident was in a DC9 when on take off the front door flew open. Luckily I was seated at the rear of the aircraft. We circled for a while in the air and came back, landing safely in Mombasa. The plane was full of German tourists and when we landed like 20 minutes after take off, they were so excited clapping and cheering in their language. They thought that in fact we had landed in Nairobi where they were to connect back to Germany. Again no one was hurt.
For some reason, I never saw myself dying in a crash. I was too busy being happy and always eager to go on a flight.
Lastly, during my domestic flying as a stewardess, we had Capt. Rose always flying in a F27 with F/O Hudson, whom the junior stewardesses had nicknamed "Coke in a bottle". He never wanted to be served in a glass hence the nickname. These two Flight Deck Crew were a bit harsh to stewardesses often reducing them into tears. No one wanted to fly with them. As it happened we had no choice. After EAA collapsed, I understand that the two pilots went to South Africa. Most of the other pilots were good. By the way we all wanted to fly with Capt Ricketts, Capt Poulsen and Capt Cook. Other pilots were Capt Moberg, Capt Cartwright, Capt Dick Knight and others.
I would like to mention that I have good memories of Mr. Barry Fraser (Mr. Raindrops) as he was affectionately known. He was our Cabin Crew Trainer together with Ms Chettyar. The Chief Stewardess Ms Buchanan was the most elegant person I ever knew, not a hair out of line. She was very strict, neat and orderly and wanted all stewardesses and stewards alike to look smart. I remember she used to stand outside Ops office and would watch us as we came out of the transport while going on flights. She would check whether our shoes were shining, uniforms ironed and worn without crease and hair well kept. She was particular about how we looked. I was very fond of her and having been in a boarding convent school for 12 years, I knew better than to be untidy. She also noticed this about me and when she received good reports about me, she kept promoting me. I could never forget her as she was in the interview panel that interviewed 150 who wanted to join EAA. Out of that, the Panel was content with taking only twenty five girls from the three East African countries and I was among them. After Ms Buchanan left, then Ms Ruth Lutale was promoted from Assistant Chief Stewardess to Chief Stewardess.
I will always remember how I looked forward to going on a flight. I would be ready in my airline gear four hours before my pick up time. Never sitting down so as not to crease my uniform. I loved the SVC10s' takeoffs and landings. I loved the sound she made during these times.
Back in 1977, when I flew the last of the East African Airways Super VC-10's to Filton, little did I think that they would remain in service for another 37 years. Not only did they continue in service, but they took on a distinctly military role, that of flight refueling.
The Super VC- 10's were modified by British Aerospace at Filton to have extra fuel tanks fitted in the fuselage and a complete overhaul of systems, together with the fitting of an Artouste A.P.U. in order to ensure self sufficiency in the military environment.
Transfer of fuel to receiving aircraft was achieved by the fitting of two Flight Refueling Systems Mk 28 Hose Drum Units of the probe and drogue type. These were suspended from the wings just outboard of the flaps and a further Mk 17B HDU was fitted in the lower rear fuselage. Control of the of the refueling was carried out by means off a television monitor and valve switching at the normal Flight Engineers station. A total of five extra fuselage tanks were fitted with individual capacities of 3,182 litres making a total disposable fuel capacity of 15,910 litres. In addition the aircrafts own fuel capacity of 105728 litres less the fuel remaining below the minimum fuel dump stack pipe was also available to receivers.
A new type number, BAC1164, and a military designation of VC-10 K.3 were used to identify the 4 ex EAA aircraft. During their careers as tankers the VC-10's refueled most of the types operated by NATO, from fighters to AWACS and Tri-Stars of the Royal Air Force, the larger aircraft being refueled from the fuselage HDU.
The VC-10’s are now being replaced by the Voyager, a militarised version of the Airbus A330.
During 2012 and 2013 the MoD issued varying statements as to the expected retirement date of the K.3's, but finally the first one ZA149 aka 5X-UVJ flew unannounced into Bruntingthorpe for reduction to spares and final breaking up as scrap on 18th March 2013. Presently however, it still stands complete.
The next K.3 to leave Brize Norton was ZA148 aka 5Y-ADA which departed on 28th August to Newquay Airport, the old RAF station of St. Mawgan, to be preserved by the Classic Air Force Collection.
Third to leave was ZA150 aka 5H-MOG, the last VC-10 to be built, and destined to reside near to the old Vickers factory at Weybridge. She departed Brize on 24th September and landed later that day at Dunsfold to be preserved by the Brooklands Museum.
The final aircraft of the four K.3's left Brize the next afternoon. She was ZA147 5H-MMT, known to all on Eastaf as "Mingi Mingi Trouble".
For whatever reason she lived up to her name, supposed to join the Bruntingthorpe circuit for a final series of flypasts, she was seen descending below tree level some 4 or 5 miles to the north of Bruntingthorpe followed by the Conway howl as she re-appeared above the trees and finally heading for where she should have been originally. After three fly pasts, all with undercarriage down, apparently the RAF doesn't do wheels up flypasts; she came in to a final landing and taxied in to widespread applause from the several hundred assembled guests and aviation enthusiasts.
Her final fate is to be "reduced to spares", but one bit of her lives on. The captains stop watch and time of flight clock was presented to me by Garry Spoors, Managing Director of GJD Aerotech prior to the start of her final disassembly.
There are plans to preserve a K.3 at the RAF Museum at Cosford, but the cost of disassembling and transporting such a large aircraft may be nigh on impossible to justify. The RAF seem to think Cosford's 1,700 yard runway is too short for the K.3 and have so far not accepted my offer to fly it in for them!