THE STOWAWAY......

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avi-addict
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THE STOWAWAY......

#1

Post by avi-addict » Thu Jan 14, 2016 8:59 pm

Ok, I asked Moertoe Pilut to cancel my "Library corner" but I came accross something I want to share with you and don"t know exactly where to post it.
It's a true incident that happened in the late 60's.

STOWAWAY.
By Armando Socarras Ramirez as told to Denis Fodor and John Reddy.
THE JET ENGINES of the Iberia Airlines DC-8 thundered in ear splitting crescendo as the big plane taxied toward where we huddled in the tall grass just off the end of the runway at Havana’s Josè Martí Airport. For months my friend Jorge Pérez Blanco and I had been planning to stow away in a wheel well on this flight, No. 904 – Iberia’s once-weekly nonstop run from Havana to Madrid. Now, in the late afternoon of June 3, 1969, our moment had come.
We realized that we were pretty young to be taking such a big gamble; U was 17, Jorge 16. But we were both determined to escape from Cuba, and our plans had been carefully made. We knew that departing airliners taxied to the end of the 11,500-foot runway, stopped momentarily after turning around, then roared at full-throttle down the runway to take off. We wore rubber-soled shoes to aid us in crawling up the wheels and carried ropes to secure ourselves inside the wheel well. We had also stuffed cotton in our ears as protection against the shriek of the four jet engines. Now we lay sweating with fear as the craft swung into its about-face, the jet blast flattening the grass all around us. “Let’s run!” I shouted to Jorge.
We dashed onto the runway and sprinted toward the left-hand wheels of the momentarily stationary plane. As Jorge began to scramble up the 42-inch-high tires, I saw there was not room for us both in the single well. “I’ll try the other side!” I shouted. Quickly I climbed onto the right wheels, grabbed a strut, and twisting and wriggling pulled myself into the semi dark well. The plane began rolling immediately, and I grabbed some machinery to keep from falling out. The roar of the engines nearly deafened me.
As we became airborne, the huge double wheels, scorching hot from takeoff, began folding into the compartment. I tried to flatten myself against the overhead as they came closer; then, in desperation, I pushed at them with my feet. But they pressed powerfully upward, squeezing me terrifyingly against the roof of the well. Just when I felt that I would be crushed, the wheels locked in place and the bay doors beneath them closed, plunging me into darkness. So there I was, my five-foot-four-inch, 140-pound frame wedged in a maze of conduits and machinery. I could not move enough to tie myself to anything, so I stuck my rope behind a pipe. Then, before I had time to catch my breath, the bay doors suddenly dropped open again, and the wheels stretched out into their landing position. I held on for dear life, swinging over the abyss, wondering if I had been spotted, if even now the plane was turning back to hand me over to Castro’s police.
By the time the wheels began retracting again, I had seen a bit of extra space among all the machinery where I could safely squeeze in. Now I knew there was room for me, even though I could scarcely breathe. After a few minutes I touched one of the tires and found that it had cooled off. I swallowed some aspirin tablets against the head splitting noise and began to wish that I was dressed in something warmer than my light sport shirt and green fatigues.
Up in the cockpit of Flight 904, Capt. Valentin Vara del Rey, 44, had settled into the routine of the overnight flight, which would last 8 hours and 20 minutes. Takeoff had been normal, with the aircraft and its 147 passengers, plus a crew of 10, lifting off at 170 miles per hour. But right after takeoff a red light on the instrument panel had remained lighted, indicating improper retraction of the landing gear.
“Are you having difficulty?” the control tower asked.
“Yes,” replied Vara del Rey. “There is an indication that the right wheel hasn’t closed properly. I’ll repeat the procedure.”
The captain re lowered the landing gear and raised it again. This time the red light blinked out. Dismissing the incident as a minor malfunction, the captain turned his attention to climbing to assigned cruising altitude. On levelling out, he observed that the temperature outside was -41°F. Inside, the stewardesses began serving dinner to the passengers.

SHIVERING UNCONTROLEABLY from the bitter cold, I wondered if Jorge had made it into the other wheel well and began thinking about what had brought me to this desperate situation. I thought about my parents and my girl, Maria Esther, and wondered what they would think when they learned what I had done.
My father was a plumber, and I have four brothers and a sister. We are poor, like most Cubans. Our house in Havana has just one large room; eleven people lived in it…or did. Food was scarce and strictly rationed. About the only fun I had was playing baseball and walking with Maria Esther along the seawall. When I turned 16, the government shipped me off to vocational school in Betancourt, a
sugar cane village in Matanzas Province. There I was supposed to learn welding, but classes were often interrupted to send us off to plant cane.
Young as I was, I was tired of living in a state that controlled everyone’s life. I dreamed of freedom. I wanted to become an artist and live in the United States, where I had an uncle. I knew that the time approached when I would be drafted, I thought more and more of trying to get away….but how? I knew that two planeloads of people were allowed to leave Havana for Miami each day, but there was a waiting list of 800,000 for those flights. Also, if you signed up to leave, the government looked on you as a gusano (“worm”) and life became even less bearable.

My hopes seemed futile. Then I met Jorge at a Havana baseball game. After the game we got to talking. I found out that Jorge, like myself, was disillusioned with Cuba. “The system takes away all your freedom…forever,” Jorge complained. He told me about the weekly flight to Madrid. Twice we went to the airport to reconnoitre. Once a DC-8 took off and flew over us, the wheels were still down, and we could see into the well compartment. “There’s enough room in there for me,” I remember saying. These were my thoughts as I lay in the freezing darkness more than five miles above the Atlantic Ocean. By now we had been in the air about an hour, and I was getting lightheaded from the lack of oxygen. Was it really only a few hours earlier that I had bicycled through the rain with Jorge and hidden in the grass? Was Jorge safe? My parents? Maria Esther? I drifted into unconsciousness.

The sun rose over the Atlantic like a great golden globe, its rays glinting off the silver-and-red fuselage of Iberia’s DC-8 as it crossed the European coast high over Portugal. With the end of the 5 563-mile flight in sight, Captain Vara del Rey began his descent toward Madrid’s Barajas Airport. Arrival would be at 8:00 A.M. local time, the captain told his passengers over the intercom, and the weather in Madrid was sunny and pleasant.
Shortly after passing over Toledo, the captain let down his landing gear. As always, the maneuver was accompanied by a buffeting as the wheels hit the slipstream and a 200-mile-per-hour turbulence swirled through the wheel wells. Now the plane went into its final approach; now a spurt of flame and smoke came from the tires as the DC-8 touched down at about 140 miles per hour.
It was a perfect landing – no bumps. After a brief post flight check, captain Vara del Rey walked down the ramp steps and stood by the nose of the plane, waiting for a car to pick him up, along with his crew.
Nearby, there was a sudden soft plop as the nearly frozen body of Armando Socarras fell to the concrete apron beneath the plane. José Rocha Lorenzana, a security guard was the first to reach the crumpled figure. When I touched his clothes, they were frozen stiff as wood,” Rocha said. “All he did was making a strange sound, a kind of moan.”
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Vara del Rey said when told of Armando. “He had ice over his nose and mouth. And his colour …..” As he watched the unconscious boy being bundled into a truck, the captain kept exclaiming to himself, “Impossible! “Impossible!”

The first thing I remember I remember after losing consciousness was hitting the ground at the Madrid airport. Then I blacked out again and woke up later at the Gran Hospital de la Beneficencia in downtown Madrid, more dead than alive. When they took my temperature, it was so low that it did not even register on the thermometer. “Am I in Spain?” was my first question…and then, “Where’s Jorge?” (Jorge is believed to have been knocked down by the jet blast while trying to climb into the other wheel well. He was arrested by Cuban police and served a short term in prison before being released.)
Doctors said later that my condition was comparable to that of a patient undergoing “deep freeze” surgery-a delicate process performed only under carefully controlled conditions. Dr. Josè Maria Pajares, who cared for me, called my survival a medical miracle.
A few days after my escape, I was up and around the hospital, playing cards with my kpolice guard and reading stacks of letters from all over the world. I especially liked one from a girl in California.
“You are a hero,” she wrote, “but not very wise.”
My uncle, Elo Fernández, who lived in New Jersey, telephoned and invited me to come to the United States to live with him. The International Rescue Committee arranged my passage.
(By the time of this writing, Armando Socarras lived in Florida. He was happily marriedand a college student)
I want to be a good citizen and contribute something in the country, for I love it here….you can smell freedom in the air. I often think of my friend Jorge. We both knew the risk we were taking and that we might be killed in our attempt to escape from Cuba. But it seemed worth the chance. Even knowing the risks, I would try to escape again if I had to.

AN EXECUTIVE OF THE DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT Co., makers of the DC-8, later said that there was “one chance in a million” that a man would not be crushed when the plane’s huge double wheel retracts. “There is space for a man in there, but he would have to be a contortionist to fit himself in among the wheels , hydraulic pipes, and other apparatus.”
Armanto should also have died from both the lack of oxygen and the extreme cold. At the altitude of Flight 904 (29 000 feet) the oxygen content of the air was about half that at sea level, and the temperature was -41°F. An expert at Brooks Air Force Base School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, said that at that altitude, in an unpressurized, icy cold compartment, a man would normally retain consciousness for only two or three minutes and live only a short while longer.
Perhaps a Spanish doctor summed up Armando Socarras’ experience most effectively: “He survived with luck, luck, luck,”


OOOOOO---OOOOOO

Ps:. . . . . . or perhaps GOD just provide an angel to watch over him. . . . .



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#2

Post by Bell 407 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 9:32 pm

A very interesting read indeed Avi..thanks for posting. I'm sure we can figure out where to put it.



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

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Post by happyskipper » Thu Jan 14, 2016 11:08 pm

Interesting, indeed........ Thanks Avi :good:



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#4

Post by Moertoe Pilut » Fri Jan 15, 2016 3:36 pm

Very interesting story, I'm sure FEJ can relate to that. Thanks Avi :thumbs:



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#5

Post by avi-addict » Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:57 pm

Moertoe Pilut wrote:Very interesting story, I'm sure FEJ can relate to that. Thanks Avi :thumbs:


Why? Tell us...



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#6

Post by Moertoe Pilut » Tue Jan 19, 2016 3:02 pm

His family is from Cuba. They fled when he was still a small boy....



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#7

Post by avi-addict » Tue Jan 19, 2016 3:32 pm

Moertoe Pilut wrote:His family is from Cuba. They fled when he was still a small boy....


tnx.....can just imagine that......



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Re: THE STOWAWAY......

#8

Post by avi-addict » Wed Jan 20, 2016 12:54 pm

okeeeeyyyyy...so....the library is back again.....mmm have to go fishing for some stories......tnx guys..... :agree: :thumbsup:



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