Sunday, May 31, 2009
The armed forces call it "theatre" but to you and me, it's where the fighting is in Afghanistan. Whatever it's called though, getting here is not easy. When a high-ranking officer warned us before we left that it could take up to 72 hours to get into the country, and the same again to travel anywhere inside it, I wasn't entirely sure if I should believe him. Now I know exactly what he was talking about.
Four of us from Five News arrived at RAF Brize Norton early on a miserable Thursday morning, to catch the plane to the international airfield at Kandahar, where we were meeting a connection to Camp Bastion. There were tell-tale signs on board of the Tristar's previous life as a PanAm airliner, and cabin crew in strange brown jumpsuits, as well as a mix of all sorts of millitary people flying.
We settled into the seven hour flight, but about halfway through, the captain told us we wouldn't be able to land at Kandahar. A pilot there had been forced to eject from his fighter jet, because it wouldn't land properly. It meant the runway was closed, and we had to divert to Muscat in Oman.
At first it sounded like an exotic stop-over, and we contemplated killing time in a hotel bar. Unfortunately, it turned out it was 45 degrees in the shade, and we spent the night in a massive emergency tent on camp beds. Even more unluckily, for cameraman Chris, it was also his 30th birthday. And there was no bar.
The next evening, thankfully, the RAF turned up again. This time, it was a big, noisy cargo plane with few windows. The short flight ended with us putting on our body armour, before we dived towards Camp Bastion in the dark, except for a few red lights dotted throughout the cabin. It was a weird but exhilarating landing, completing a bizarre 36 hours.
We were finally in Afghanistan, but from now on, helicopter would be the only way to fly...