Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Martinair Pilots Tattle on Garuda

Another Indonesian plane crash, the third since January first, and I recall when
flying Garuda many years ago. I was a diplomat at the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia and got a free round trip [$100]from Jeddah to Jakarta in late 1977 on an empty Martinair Hajj plane flying back to Indonesia. The plane was crawling with houseflies, but the pilots were most friendly, as I was the only passenger on a 300-passenger plane, a McDonnell DC-10, if I'm not mistaken. During the flight to Jakarta, the pilots asked me what I was going to do and I told them fly to Bali for three weeks in the sun at the beach. They told me back then that Garuda, which I was going to fly from Jakarta to Bali, was the worst airline in the world, crashing so often that some countries discreetly advised their citizens to avoid Garuda.

After three wonderful weeks on Bali [Italian director Federico Fellini was staying at my hotel with two husky good-looking bodyguards], I came back to Jakarta and was invited by the same pilots as before to fly all the way back to Jidda [5000 miles non-stop] in the cockpit. However, takeoff was delayed because the first two Garuda fuel trucks which came to the DC10 were inexplicably empty! The pilots winked at me and told me that this happens almost every time they refuel in Jakarta! Gee, wonder where that fuel had disappeared to, the pilots asked me as they ruefully smiled!?

Parenthetically, they mentioned that Garuda still did its own maintenance in-country, a job that Martinair consigned to Dutch hangars. The pilots told me something that I have heard is also a politically-incorrect fact about Africa, that the rate of pilferage of aircraft parts and the sloppy workmanship made maintenance in Indonesia a crap shoot. Indeed, I am told that most African national airlines now have their aircraft maintenance done in Europe or in civilized countries without a total corruption culture. Otherwise, expensive replacement parts disappear and planes crash very often. This is one reason State Dept. officials are advised always to fly on a European or American airline if possible.

I have a brother living in Banda Aceh and between the earthquakes and plane crashes, I hope he survives his four-year contract with USAID!

And don't forget about tsunamis!

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