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High drama and glitches till the last minute

Behind the safe return of the 46 nurses from Iraq is an edge of the seat story filled with last minute glitches and nail-biting moments.

With patchy telephone access, there was no means of locating them or the men who were accompanying them.

When contact was finally made, the militants said the bus would not come to the border, and asked the officials to come to where they were, about 2 km from the border. With ISIS checkpoints just across the border, it was a risky proposition.

Also, the militants were hardly clear about their exact location. After a long and nerve-racking stand off for the officials, the militants finally relented to drop the nurses off at the border.

Once inside Kurdistan, the ride to the airport at Erbil was incident-free. But the relief was short-lived.

An hour or so before the arrival of the Air India special plane, information came from the pilot that he had been denied permission by air traffic control at Baghdad to land at Erbil for reasons that are unclear.

At the same time, the Indian Embassy in Baghdad was working the phones to the Iraqi government, right up to the top levels. It yielded results. A call went out from the Prime Minister’s office to Baghdad ATC, and permission was given. By then AI-160 turned around to return to India.

The pilot returned, but had to get clearance from Tehran to cross Iranian airspace once again. But the arrival of the plane at Erbil was not the end of the drama.

As many as 40 of the 130 other workers who were going back in the same plane refused to board the flight, saying they would not return unless they were paid back wages.

Refuelling problem

After they were persuaded to get on the flight, more was to follow. AI-160 now had insufficient fuel for the return journey. Erbil airport refused to refuel, citing shortage. Once again, telephones lines burned. And orders went out from top levels in the government to refuel the plane. The amount was two tonnes less than what the pilot had wanted, but it was better than nothing.

The next obstacle came when the fuel company wanted cash down payment. More phone calls, more instructions to the company from a high office in the land. The plane finally took off at about 4 a.m. IST with all aboard, toward dawn in India.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 1:16:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/high-drama-and-glitches-till-the-last-minute/article6181644.ece

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