Suffolk engineer was caught up in coup on way to repair Airbus A321 in Somalia


Suffolk-based aircraft engineer Paul Grayston reveals he felt defenceless and and vulnerable as he was called to fix a Somalian plane damaged during a terror attack as he releases his dairies online. Departing from Mogadishu airport back in February, the doomed Airbus A321 was nearly destroyed when a suicide bomber ripped a hole in the side of it.

A bomb had been concealed in the attacker’s laptop, and exploded at around 14,000 feet.

This summer Mr Grayston – director of Aeroeng Ltd in Chattisham – was drafted in to repair the plane.

But he and a colleague got caught up in a military coup at Istanbul Airport before they even set foot in Somalia – and were met with more terror attacks once they arrived.Aeroplane engineer Paul Grayston.Aeroplane engineer Paul Grayston.

Now back in Suffolk, Mr Grayston, who is married with two sons, has described how his experience unfolded in diary entries shared with us. The 68-year-old has now published these in full online.

Gunfire and explosions were heard by Mr Grayston and his colleague Simon while they waited to fly to Somalia at Istanbul Airport on July 14.

“We were defenceless and vulnerable human beings,” Mr Grayston wrote after the incident.

“We could hear people outside chanting and running in groups and the noise of gunfire and explosions in the distance.

Mogadishu Airport with the Airbus in the foregroundMogadishu Airport with the Airbus in the foreground

“Suddenly, as we turned we almost froze with the view of a stampede of terrified passengers running towards us from the other side of the lounge, screaming and looking back. Tables being knocked over, mothers gathering children and generalised chaos with people falling all over the place. It was a scene of real panic.”

Eventually, the pair discovered a military coup had taken place outside the airport, after hours of scrambling to discover what was happening.

They were put on a plane to Somalia a few days later – where they began repair work on the damaged Airbus.

While there, they witnessed a series of suicide bomb attacks on the city by members of terror group Al Shabaab.Passengers at Mogadishu AirportPassengers at Mogadishu Airport

Returning home in mid-August, Mr Grayston had time to reflect on his trip – so penned a full account of his experiences which have now been turned into a blog post.

A full account of such attacks – and Mr Grayston’s experience at Istanbul Airport – can be found here

Istanbul Airport stampede

At about 11.30pm we sat at the departure gate waiting for our TK flight to Mogadishu when we noticed that our flight was delayed. With concern we then noticed that all delayed flights had now been cancelled and passengers at this point were gathering around a TV screen watching intensely at some sort of disruption taking place. We then decided to go back to the business lounge to see whether we could find out what was going on, however the information desk was inundated with passengers trying to get a new flight booked or just eager to find out what was happening. ‘Information’ such a precious word, gained increased importance particularly because of its absence. Later I decided to go downstairs looking for answers, however I came to the conclusion the staff knew as much as we did, nothing.

On the lower level of the business lounge was a bank of televisions with Al Jazeera providing better coverage of the unfolding events, a military coup was apparently taking place and the scenes of the military with tanks taking over the Bosporus Bridge did not look goodDamage to Airbus repaired by Aeroeng. The thought of being stuck in a country going into turmoil didn’t sound like a good prospect.Damage to Airbus repaired by Aeroeng

We then noticed that crowds of people were gathering outside and coming into the terminal some distance away. Suddenly, as we turned we almost froze with the view of a stampede of terrified passengers running towards us from the other side of the lounge, screaming and looking back.

Tables being knocked over, mothers gathering children and generalised chaos with people falling all over the place. It was a scene of real panic. We dived behind a bar fearing that someone was in the lounge with a gun or a bomb. We live in very difficult times these days and those terrifying moments where we had a brief encounter with the horror that many people have faced in recent times were a reminder that unfortunately nobody is exempt or protected from this reality anymore. It is the nature of what’s happening in our world today.

Suicide bomb attacks in Mogadishu

Close up of the damage to the AirbusClose up of the damage to the Airbus

The massive explosion shook the aircraft. I ran and looked out of the main passenger door back behind the left hand wing tip as I knew that two of the team were outside getting ready to change a main wheel, and was concerned for their safety. It was a relief to see that the explosion had not been in our close proximity but close enough for the shockwave to shake the aircraft. Then I saw a large menacing cloud starting to rise up in the distance near the terminal building and about one kilometre away from our location on the tarmac.

It would be very difficult to describe what my thoughts or feelings were as these events developed. It must have been the adrenaline probably still keen to run fast following the incident at Istanbul airport, but certainly we did promptly follow the instructions from our Ugandan security guard. Within seconds we were rushed out of the aircraft and into the shipping container parked near the nose of the aircraft and were asked to wait there. We were told by the security guard that this had been a terrorist attack and we would need to hide there and wait as often the first blast is followed by a second bombing or gunfire. There was nothing we could do other than waiting. Shortly after, we were informed via radio that a suicide bomber had detonated a bomb inside a car and later on we learnt that the man was an ex Somali MP who had joined Al Shabaab.

The Somali National News Agency (SONNA) reported that at least 13 people had been killed and 19 wounded in the attack that day, and that security forces and private security guards were among the dead.

The force of the explosion was such that an old HS748 turbo prop cargo aircraft had been damaged when part of the car used for the bomb flew over the terminal building, damaging one engine cowling, then bouncing over the fuselage to the other side and damaging the other engine cowling, and then landing on the grass behind the aircraft.

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