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Hastings WD483

The end came for 483 at Ataq

Updated 13th March 2010 an email in from Peter King who writes:
WD483 HastingsC2 Ataq, Aden 9th April 1956 

About the same time there was trouble up-country in the area around Ataq and for the first time in years an army infantry detachment came to Aden. At first they had to sleep on beds placed on the verandahs of the barrack blocks (and for the SNCOs in our mess) but eventually a tented camp was started on empty land inside the main gate - in years to come to house a Transit Hotel for aircrew. Most of them soon disappeared up-country and then, as we started a night shift we were told to unload a Hastings that had was night-stopping, en route from Cyprus to Eastleigh, so that it could be used to transport a Ferret Scout Car to Ataq the next morning. Now this must mean there was trouble there as a Hastings had never landed there before, neither had our shift loaded a ferret!

Well we set up the heavy-duty loading ramp, a steel structure like a large sloping platform that was wheeled up to the side of the aircraft and then steadied with legs that were wound down while two long trackways were attached to complete the slope up from ground level - and all at an incline of about eleven degrees! Two hour later, after much sweat mixed with exhaust fumes as the army driver slowly inched it forward while we ensured that it was held by a couple of chains all the time, just in case the engine stalled - an eleven degree slope is dangerous when you have a few tons of scout car on it! We wondered how it was intended to get it off at Ataq since this would usually be with air-portable ramps, not so robust as our steel monster, but we knew there were none in Aden. Then a party from Station Workshops appeared and, as soon as we moved the ramp away from the aircraft they began dismantling it into component parts, each small enough so that we could then load these to go behind the ferret. Apparently it was intended for this party to accompany the aircraft and re-build the ramp at Ataq so seats were then fitted for them and the army driver. We were told that the AQM (air quartermaster) would release the chains at Ataq so no Movements staff were needed.

Our shift was due to finish at seven and a Valetta was due to go to Ataq at that time with a load of soldiers, about an hour before the Hastings (possibly they would help with the unloading). I was curious just how it would be done and I happened to know the air signaller so I had a word, he spoke to the captain and I was taken as a spare crew member. So we landed at Ataq, a rough, stony strip at about seven thirty. Now I hoped the Valetta would wait for the Hastings but the captain had other ideas and wouldnt let me wait to come back on the Hastings since I didnt have a rifle so, reluctantly, I flew back to Khormaksar.

Probably this was as well since ten minutes later the Hastings approached and flew over the strip for the captain to look at it before attempting the first Hastings landing there. He came in and within seconds of the undercarriage touching the stony surface one leg collapsed and the aircraft slew to one side, settling on the wing, with the propellers on that side buckled as they hit the ground. Shortly afterwards it burst into flames from fuel that was escaping from a ruptured wing tank. The crew and passengers escaped through a parachute door on the opposite side to the fire but the flames had taken hold and the aircraft, together with our labours of the night was destroyed. So we lost our loading ramp!

WD483 crashed on landing at Ataq on the 9th April, Peter King writes:

Seeing 09/04/1956 made me remember that I had loaded that aircraft at Khormaksar during the night before it crashed at Ataq.
As I recall, WD483 was from 70 Sqn (at that time probably at Nicosia) and was originally on a scheduled passage Nicosia - Khormaksar - Eastleigh (Kenya). It had arrived at Khormaksar in afternoon of 8 April and would probably gone on next day to Eastleigh, quick turnround and back to Khormaksar that day and next day return to Cyprus.
I remember that in the weeks prior to this there had been 'trouble' up-country and that an army unit had arrived in Aden, presumably to sort it out (remember Aden didn't, at the time have a permanent army presence. I know we had numerous army Sergeants sleeping on the verandah outside my room (I had recently been promoted Sgt and ran one of the two shifts at Air Movements).
When we took over on evening of 8 April we were told that we had to unload the 70 Sqn Hastings of its load (intended to go to Eastleigh next day) and load a Ferret Scout Car which was to go to Ataq where we assumed the army would use it (ours not to reason why ......!!)
First problem was that to load vehicles into  a Hastings you needed a ramp and at Khormaksar we only had a single 'heavy-duty' version. OK for us but what about at Ataq? Now there were light duty ramps, air-portable so we understood though we had never seen one so we were told that workshops airmen would then dismantle our ramp, load it into aircraft behind the ferret, take it off at Ataq and re-assemble it to use there!
I know that by about midnight after much sweating and exhaust fumes the ferret had found its way up the (was it 11 degree?) slope and we had it safety chained down. Now the workshops staff set to work on our one and only ramp and reduced it to a number of bulky, heavy, pieces. Eventually we got this on board and TASF refitted seats behind it for the ferret driver and crew and for several workshop staff who had to put it together at Ataq. I was told that I did not need to worry about the Weight and Balance Sheet (old-fashioned version of trim sheet) since the AQM would do his own, also no Movements staff were need to accompany aircraft as AQM would release chains etc.
It was now about three am and I remember we got our heads down for a couple of hours before we had to see other aircraft off. Remember I was single and just 21 so when as we finished our shift at 0700 I heard that a Valetta of the APCSS was going to Ataq with a party of soldiers I had a word with the air signaller who fixed it for me to fly as a spare crew member. I was interested to see how the Hastings would be unloaded and, as it was due to leave about 30 minutes after us, there seemed a good chance I could do so.
Off we flew to Ataq but the Valetta captain was in a hurry to drop his load and get back to Aden. I asked if I could stay and return later on the Hastings (due in about ten minutes) but was told no, since I didn't have a rifle!
So we took off and were back at Khormaksar by about 1000. Now I was off shift so went straightway to the Mess and bed. It wasn't till dinner that evening that someone asked if I had heard of the crash at Ataq.
Peter King


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