Airlift to Ethiopia: a view from the cockpit
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Lawson recounts that after landing at Assab in strong winds, the Hercules had taxied past the Soviet Antonov-22. He says he greeted the Soviet transport over the radio with a ''Hello Ivan.'' There was no reply. He repeated the greeting as he took off. No reply.Skip to next paragraph
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The exact amount the Antonov-22 can carry is not known here. No outsider is allowed into the plane, including Ethiopian loaders and unloaders of food supplies. So the Antonov carries 26 Soviet handlers as well as its crew. This cuts down its load, especially as the plane requires large amounts of fuel for its oversized frame.
The Soviet system apparently lengthens the time of loading. The British loaded their first flight from Assab in 14 minutes flat using Ethiopian handlers who ran from truck to plane with heavy bags on their backs. But the Soviet plane , which had landed before the RAF transport, was still unloading when the Hercules returned from a flight to Aksum some 300 miles away. The British crew could not ascertain where the Soviet plane delivered its load before returning to Addis.
A smaller Soviet plane overshot the runway at Addis Nov. 4.
The big Antonov-22 brought several helicopters from the USSR a few days ago. Four were visible on the Addis tarmac as this correspondent taxied in a vintage Ethiopian Airlines DC-3 on route to Makele Sunday. The DC-3 was dwarfed by a line of Soviet transports on its right and the two British Hercules on its left.
The US effort is based at Asmara, where a large quantity of grain has been brought from ships arriving at Red Sea ports as well as two planes chartered by Washington. One more Hercules is airlifting supplies for the main private US relief agency here, Catholic Relief Services.
The international airlift does present some problems as well.
''We urgently need more trucks to get all the supplies from the airfields to our feeding centers,'' says Dagne Gurmu, chief of the Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission for Tigre. He spoke on the tarmac before the RAF Hercules took off for Makele.
''We have exactly four trucks for all of Tigre,'' he said. ''We have no garage for repairs. We try to rent trucks from an office here but it must also supply other ministries. I myself had to obtain a four-wheel-drive vehicle from UNICEF just to get around the town and visit the camps.''
The airlift is being coordinated by an international committee headed by the Ethiopian government and including the US.
In an interview in Addis Ababa, the chief of the US Agency for International Development, M. Peter McPherson, said: ''The number of planes is small enough to allow coordination. The immediate impact of the airlift is to ease the burden on long-distance trucking. Presumably some of the long-haul trucks can be reallocated to deliveries from airports to camps.''
While the current airlift is alleviating shortages in Makele and elsewhere, where allocations to adults have dropped to as low as five kilos per month, airlifted food gets only to those who have made it to feeding centers near the main cities. Little or no food is getting into the interior or areas controlled by secessionist guerrillas in Eritrea and Tigre.
''But the airlift is helping,'' says Dagne Gurmu. ''Fewer people are dying.''
Said Mr. McPherson after a day of brief visits to Alamata, Korem, and Makele: ''The most important thing now is that the contributions that people in other countries have made are coordinated, and that we use this burst of energy, excitement, and commitment to back up a long-term effort.''