Essex Pilot In Daring Libya Rescue
7 March 2011, 14:29
An Essex RAF pilot who flew a daring rescue mission into the Libyan desert had to use a black and white Google Maps printout to land.
The brave humanitarian crew had none of the usual high tech guidance and support as they swooped to rescue British oil workers amid last week's chaos and bloodshed.
Flight lieutenant Stuart Patton was in the cockpit for the nerve-wracking mission - which Tripoli's air traffic control had not sanctioned.
The 29-year-old from Colchester said: "I'd been handed some information from the internet that had been hastily printed out, including a black and white satellite image from Google Maps.
"You had to laugh and we knew were going to have to conduct an assessment of the site ourselves to see if it was suitable for landing.''
He added: "As the field came into view it became clear that there was a runway in decent condition, and after a close inspection proceeded to land and taxi to the area we'd identified as both a suitable area to receive the passengers and to make a quick getaway.
"While the crew sat waiting for news of the passengers, we laughed about the surreal situation we found ourselves in, sat on an unmanned runway hundreds of miles into the Libyan desert.''
Ft Lt Patton's C130 Hercules had collected its 40 terrified passengers when the plane had to leave urgently as Libyans tried to block it.
"We need to go now,'' the loadmaster shouted as ground troops bellowed the order: "Go.''
Ft Lt Patton said: "We'd prepped everything for just this eventuality and were rolling down the runway before he'd finished his sentence.''
An accompanying Hercules had 136 passengers on board.
Later, safely back in Malta, the pilots discussed the frightening mission.
"Had that really just happened? Two aircraft in the middle of the desert, rescuing evacuees. Just surreal,'' the pilot said.
Earlier in the week Ft Lt Patton, based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, had rescued 64 Brits "and a dog''.
He later flew a third mission saving 27 evacuees.