Final days in Pakistan - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Final days in Pakistan

Once all the student flying had finished, my last week at the Pakistan Air Force Academy was marked by several farewell parties in the various officers and students messes and one at the British High Commission in Islamabad.
Above: These were some of my final flying sorties from Risalpur so I chose to record the students' names in their own languages. The 19 June sortie was, sadly, my only sortie with a Pakistan Air Force cadet - a familiarisation flight in the T37 for Flight Cadet Ameen.

My fellow QFIs presented me with a magnificent farewell gift: a framed Pakistan Air Force Academy badge with the signatures of the flying instructors beautifully embroidered on it in gold thread. It must have taken many hours of delicate work and it still has pride of place in my home.

On my final day in Pakistan I attended another formal graduation parade of Pakistani and foreign students at Risalpur. The PAF certainly know how to mount a truly impressive parade although it was still slightly bizarre hearing the band once again play 'Abide with me' as the music to accompany the inspection of the parade, this time by the PAF Commander-in-Chief, Air Marshal Abdur Rahim Khan.

At 5am the very next morning, after the final party and farewells, I was picked up from my quarters at Risalpur by the High Commission Land Rover and driven straight to the airport in Rawalpindi. The RAF Andover that had been going to fly me to Bahrain, where I was booked to join a routine RAF trooping flight to UK, had been delayed in Sharjah so the High Commission travel staff had booked me instead on PK505 to Karachi but they had omitted to book me a connecting flight from there to Bahrain.

"No-one told me you wanted to go to Bahrain," the harassed High Commission clerk told me on the telephone. "No problem, just go to the travel desk when you get to Karachi and book yourself a flight - the RAF will reimburse you.

It proved to be not quite that simple. There was a huge crowd milling around at Karachi International Airport with folk trying to book last-minute flights to here, there and everywhere. When I had worked my way to the front desk in the booking office and asked for the first available flight to Bahrain the clerk told me that there was a very long waiting list for all flights to Bahrain that day and that I was unlikely to get a seat. I pointed out that I had a confirmed reservation on an onward connection to UK from Bahrain and showed him my RAF ticket to prove it. Suddenly it was all smiles. International connections, even on RAF flights, seemed to take priority over all other bookings and within five minutes I had a ticket to Bahrain and a confirmed seat. I had sufficient US currency in my pocket to pay cash for the ticket but the booking agent said he could accept a signed chitty charging the cost to the British High Commission, so that's what I did.

Presumably some unfortunate passenger was bumped off flight PK209 to make way for me. I was hurriedly escorted through to the departure lounge and then straight onto the aircraft which was ready to depart. Only after we had taken off did I remember that no-one had asked to see my passport. So not only had I been an illegal immigrant to Pakistan, I was now an illegal emigrant.

On arrival at Bahrain I had a six-hour wait for the RAF scheduled VC-10 flight from RAF Muharraq to Brize Norton but I consoled myself in the RAF Officers' Mess with some ice cold beers. VC-10 Flt 2329 departed on schedule at midnight local time and landed at Brize Norton at 6.30am on 30 June 1970.

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