By Lt Col Masood Alam (retd), 2nd SSC
Editor’s Note: Lt Col Masood Alam (Retd) is from Air Defence. After the retirement, he has settled in Karachi.
During my posting at Sargodha (1995-99), I became friendly with Col Hameed, Commandant, Remount Depot Sargodha. He narrated the following interesting anecdote:-
While he was a young Major he was deputed on an Advance Course in France. After completion of the course, he was returning to Pakistan on a flight which was having a stopover in Nigeria. He was sitting in the departure lounge when he heard the announcement, “Passengers going for Niger are requested to board the plane”.
Major Hameed looked around and saw most of the people getting up and moving towards the gate. He asked a few passengers where the flight was going. He could only understand that it was going to Niger. So he also joined the group and boarded the plane, thinking that Niger and Nigeria are the same country, and people saying Niger may be having pronunciation problem (Though Niger is a different country having its capital as Niamey).
It was interesting that no ground staff bothered to check his boarding card. He was told to sit on any vacant seat, as the plane was quite empty. He made himself comfortable at a window seat. During the flight Major Hameed noticed that there was not a single Pakistani passenger in the plane. He tried to ask an air hostess about Pakistan. This took the air crew with surprise that how he got into their plane. A panic was created and the pilot also informed Niamey Air Traffic Control about the illegal passenger.
Once the plane landed at Niamey, Major Hameed was asked to get down first. He thought that he was being given VIP treatment in Nigeria. But to his surprise on the stairs 4 policemen greeted him while some policemen were standing below with their weapons pointing towards him. They escorted him to the airport building and took him to a small room. They were saying something in both French and their native language but it all went over his head. Col Hameed was neither good at French (Niger’s official language) nor at any African language. After some time a Niger police officer who knew a little bit of English came and started interrogating him, only then Major Hamid came to know that he was not getting VIP treatment rather he was under arrest because he had boarded a wrong plane and landed in Niger instead of Nigeria.
Investigation was carried out with lot of questioning. For Major Hameed it was not an easy task to prove that he had no bad intentions, and it was a sheer mistake due to language problem that he boarded a wrong plane. After getting a pretty tough time for more than 48 hours, he was finally deported and sent back to Paris by another plane. Due to non availability of flight he had to stay for a few more days in Paris which he thoroughly enjoyed. After 3 days he boarded a plane for Pakistan via Nigeria. What happened after reaching Pakistan is another story which requires more pages.
After narrating the episode Col Hameed gave a big laugh and said,
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