Sunday, March 18, 2007

PM's Plane, Billowing Smoke, Forced Down In Iraq

14 Minutes Of Terror As Cabin Of Aircraft Filled With Choking Fumes

The Australian prime minister, John Howard, had the closest call of his career last night when his C-130 RAAF plane began billowing smoke thousands of feet above Iraq.

The Hercules aircraft was forced to descend quickly, and gas masks were worn by all on board, as heavy smoke poured from the aircraft and filled the cabin :

Some on board thought the smoke smelled of burning oil, while other likened it to burning insulation material.

The military transport aircraft, carrying the PM, his personal staff and security, journalists, senior military leaders and dozens of others, landed heavily at Tallil Airport, 300 kilometres from Baghdad, after 14 minutes of flight in conditions close to an Airforce 'mayday' status.
The Prime Minister and all on board were evacuated within moments of the Hercules coming to a stop, while SAS troops surrounded the plane to fend off potential attacks.
During the long minutes on the ground at the airport, as his escape flight on a Blackhawk helicopter was organised, there were very real fears that insurgents might launch attacks on the prime minister, as his aircraft would have been seen coming down in a state of emergency.

Security were reported to have been fearful insurgents were using mobile phones to co-ordinate an attack on John Howard, while he was exposed in the middle of an aistrip, before being escorted onto the Blackhawk.

The prime minister made this unnanounced visit to Iraq, after visiting Afghanistan only hours before.

In meetings with the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, Howard confirmed that Australia would continue its troop presence in their region for the immediate future.

John Howard is expected to announce a "surge" of fresh SAS troops into Afghanistan in the coming week.

In a press conference with Iraqi prime minister Maliki, Howard again dropped expectations for what he regarded as the level of "success" in Iraq that would warrant a pullout of Australian troops.
"...Australia will continue its presence in Iraq to assist in bringing about a situation where the Iraqi people are reasonably able to provide for their own future and for their own security..."
Howard also vowed that Australia would stay in Iraq until "the terrorists are defeated."

More To Come.....