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Maybe Airlines SPU-SJJ Part I (March 1994) (long)

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  • Maybe Airlines SPU-SJJ Part I (March 1994) (long)

    This will be a two part trip report, covering three flights. I want to share the differences between "operators" for this fictious airline. The flights were real, but the airline was not a real one.

    About Maybe Airlines

    During the civil war in Bosnia, United Nations ran airlifts from various airports into Sarajevo, Bosnia (SJJ). They used all kinds of cargo aircraft, mostly for transporting food to the besieged Sarajevo. There was a mix of military cargo planes (C-130, C-5 etc) and also some contracted civilian cargo haulers (most notably IL-76).

    Since the war was at full swing, there were quite a few incidents where these planes were shot at, leaving some with quite a few bullet holes. However, none were ever shot down.

    Because of this danger, the UN guys used to joke around how no one knew if you'd make it there in one piece. Hence, the "airline" name "Maybe Airlines" -- maybe you land, maybe they shoot you down. They even made a rubber stamp, and at your request, they'd stamp your passport on arrival into Sarajevo (I guess to mark that you did make it)

    SPU - SJJ

    Since my aunt was in Sarajevo throughout the siege, I wanted to visit her, help her with some money and make sure she's OK. The only way into Sarajevo at the time was with these UN planes, and I was lucky to have worked for a UN implementing agency. Still, it took some time for me to persuade my boss to sign the "travel order" for me to go to Sarajevo.

    Basically, they were worried something would go wrong, and I'd get killed going on "vacation" to a war torn country!! So I came up with a plan -- we needed someone to take quite a bit of cash to our office there. This was the only way since no banks worked, and you could only dream of electronic tranfers.

    I finally managed to get the papers signed, and went to Split, Croatia (SPU) airport for my first flight on a military plane ever. This time, it was a US Airforce C-130 Hercules.

    The friendly crew greeted their passangers for the day. There were a few of us hitching the ride into Sarajevo on that Saturday morning. We went through a short briefing (some safety stuff, I dont' remember much of that). The bottom line was -- you must wear your bulletproof vest and helmet throughout the flight. I stashed $40,000 in an envelope directly under my kevlar vest (as an added protection) They offered us a choice of Coke or Sprite, and I opted for Coke, served in a plastic cup. When they realized I didn't have ear plugs, they gave me 2-3 pairs. This proved invaluable for my next trip (read Part II for more details).

    It almost felt like a normal flight... except that the plane was "different." There were no regular seats. Only these foldable little seats running alongside the side of the plane (almost like camping seats that you fold down). Talk about (lack of) comfort!!! Sitting sideways kind of felt awkward too.

    After a normal takeoff on runway 23, we made a left climbing turn over the Adriatic sea, and then turned eastward, towards Sarajevo. It was a fairly quick flight of about an hour or so.. not too long. However, as we were approaching SJJ, I felt tension among other passangers. My heart started pounding too... I mean, will they shoot at us today? Will we make it OK? You just don't know.

    Obviously we landed safely, as there was cease fire agreement at that time. A couple of guards escorted us out into the badly damaged terminal building. At that time, I asked the guy inside to stamp my passport. He did, and I had "Maybe airlines" stamp, along with the UNPROFOR NORMOVCON official stamp. If you are wondering what these weird abbreviations stand for -- UN PROtection FORces NORwegian MOVement CONtrol. This is because Norwegian army was in charge of movement control for these flights at the time.

    I spent the night at my aunt's... it was horrible.. the apartment was damaged, and you could hear sporadic gun fire all night long. I didn't really sleep too tight!

    The following day (Sunday) I went to our office and hitched the ride to the airport. Another US Airforce C-130 was there to fly us back to Split, Croatia. I used another pair of ear plugs, and the flight was uneventful. There was almost no uneasy feeling this time around. I guess you adjust to the situation pretty quickly, and this was not my first time in the harm's way.

    The most unusual part of this trip was the fact that the friendly USAF crew really went out of their way to make the flight more comfortable and enjoyable... Hehe.. not sure if that was cause it could have been the last flight I took

    What an experience. Having a chance to fly on these planes was very exciting, but a brief "R&R" in a besieged city in the middle of the war left an everlasting impression on me.

    Hope you enjoyed it. I'll be shorter next time when I cover the third flight -- on a russian IL-76.


  • #2
    Sounds like fun. Another unique report. Great job.