John R Gard'ner - presumed "down" in Africa

Filename: John_R_Gardner_-_presumed_down_in_Kenya.mp3 ( download )

Size: 2.8 MB

Recording type: audio/mpeg

6 minutes 53seconds long (click "audio mp3" above to listen)

In 2006 Jim Walsh interviewed Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner. An article about his life and links to audio snippets from that interview can be found by clicking here.

In this audio excert you can hear Gard'ner describe how, while flying a long distance trip over Africa, a frozen piece of equipment forced them to make an early and unplanned landing.


The transcript below is kindly provided by Kim Megson.



File ID:                        John_R_Gardner_-_presumed_down_in_Kenya

Interviewer:               Jim Walsh (JW)                       

Interviewee:             John Gard’ner (JG)

Date Recorded:       January 2006   

Duration:                   6min 52sec

Date Typed:              26 August 2012  


JW:        And, of course, there were some scares during that time.  You had creation of a state of Israel, you had the Korean War, you had the Suez War, and obviously involved in some of those in some way, but there is one interesting experience you had, shall we say, the peace-time RAF and we still had the Cold War, as I said, going on, was in Nairobi.  Could you tell us more about that one?


JG:        I was in the headquarters at the RA at Aden and our territory covered into Kenya, and I was flying ... we used to fly down there in an old Meteor aircraft which had been fitted with wing tanks so that we could make the flight from Aden down to the airfield of Nairobi in three stages – from Aden to Hargeisa, from Hargeisa across to Mogadishu in Italian Somaliland, and then the longest leg was from Mogadishu down to Eastleigh.  We used to do this trip always at ... we used to climb through altitude, and you had to use the fuel out of your wing tanks to complete the journey from Mogadishu right down to Eastleigh.  And one of the things was that when you were flying at this altitude that we used to get up to, 32/33,000 feet, you had to exercise the fuel cock which allowed the fuel to come from the wing tanks into the main tank for use at the end.  And on that particular leg from Mogadishu, on this particular trip I was flying with my SASO, my Air Commodore, who was my boss, and we used to fly each leg, each one of us taking ... being Captain of the aircraft. 

 I was flying as Captain of the aircraft fromMogadishu down toEastleigh, and my Air Commodore was seated in the passenger seat where you had to exercise the fuel cock to make sure that it didn’t freeze up at altitude.  Anyway, when it came to the point of no return fromMogadishu toEastleigh, when the time came to take the fuel from the wing tank into the main tank, the cock was frozen and it couldn’t be unstuck.  So the only way to unstick it was to come down to low altitude, and coming down to low altitude you didn’t have enough fuel left to climb up again and to make the rest of the trip to Eastleigh, so we were committed somewhere to do something about landing.  Well, now, we were above cloud and we shut down one of the engines and proceeded from then onwards on one engine, and losing height – deliberately losing height – because we knew we had to come down to land somewhere.  Saw a hole in the cloud, went down through this hole in the cloud to about 2,000 feet and found ourselves over a big, wide river.  In the meantime, the SASO had taken the controls over, being the senior person in the aeroplane.  We were going down this river at about 2,000 feet and I remember wondering what do we do about this – crocodiles in the river, snakes, wild animals in the jungle – ‘cos all you could see was jungle on either side of the river as we cruised down this river. 

Now, I suddenly saw on the horizon a white sort of speck, and I said to SASO that I think there’s something over on our portside there which ... we’ve got to head towards that and which he said, yes, we’ll do that.  And as we got closer we realised it was a small building.  As we got closer to it still we realised that alongside this building was a long, cleared strip in the jungle.  We flew around this thing.  We had no contact with anybody, but I must say earlier on before we made our descent, I had called Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! which is the top priority aircraft in distress.  Had no idea whether we’d got in contact with anybody.  We came around this circuit not knowing how long this strip was and saw alongside the building there was a windsock, so we realised which way the wind was blowing and made the approach into this strip.  As we got near to the downwind boundary, we cut the good engine and dead-stick landed.  To our surprise, we only went about a third of the way up the runway and, of course, came to a dead stop, and that was that.  Almost immediately a jeep came out from the area where the building was, and it turned out to be the British resident of the area.  Again, I can’t recall the name of it or anything much about it, but here he came out dressed in white with a white t??? (unclear) and announced who he was and we told him what we want, and he said oh, well, we’ll go back and we’ll call your base.  So we went back to his headquarters and called the base and, in the meantime, my mayday message had been picked up by an East African Airways pilot who had passed it on to the search and rescue centre back down at Nairobi.  He also reported that he had seen a column of smoke coming up somewhere, and it was assumed that we had actually crashed, because we’d been able to make no contact with anybody.

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