'Surely they could identify a civilian aircraft from a military threat '

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'Surely they could identify a civilian aircraft from a military threat '


Mike Mahon remembers some of the difficulties flying passenger planes in Bahrain during the Gulf War.


Mike Mahon


Trinity College Dublin




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While I was there the Iran - Iraq was on and we had some interesting flight restrictions. The US and other European countries sent in a fleet of warships to protect the oil tanker traffic from Kuwait through the Gulf of Hormuz. This gave rise to some tense moments as the navy crews appeared to be trigger happy. Frequently on descent into some airports an American voice would come over the emergency radio frequency 121. 5, . ' This is US navy warship, aircraft approaching turn ninety degrees left or you will be fired on'. Now this created utter confusion as there could be as many as a half a dozen aircraft in the same area and we never knew to which of us were in danger so we all complied and turned left - total confusion. This we could never understand as all civilian flights had a designated four digit transponder code to facilitate radar identification and US Navy had the most sophisticated radar and defence systems on the planet. Surely they could identify a civilian aircraft from a military threat. These calls always scared me as they sounded young and nervous, and I had visions of some farm boy from Iowa with his finger on the button ready to launch a missile in defence of democracy. Actually they did manage to shoot down an Iranian passenger flight killing hundreds of people and causing a major International incident. One of our routes took us from Muscat out over the Indian Ocean towards Karachi. Now the US Navy had a carrier permanently stationed in the area, and their aircraft frequently used us for interception practice. We could never see them as they as they came up under us from behind. But there was an Omani Air force base, supposed to be secret, but everyone knew of it , staffed by RAF and they would monitor our flights on radar and warn us of any conflicting traffic. 'Gulf Air 236, this is Thumrait radar, you have two bogies on you tail, range 55 nautical miles closing fast, passing flight level 230. Advise if you get them in sight. ' Of course we never did and accepted it as part of the job. But one Gulf Air Captain either panicked or decided to make an issue of it and diverted back to Muscat causing another major International incident .


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

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Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

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Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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