As told by David Ashton:
In my younger days I was Regional Network Manager for Southern Africa SITA, the airlines data network. My job involved keeping the comms going in 9 countries around Southern Africa. This meant a lot of travelling (my wife says she never really got to know me early in our marriage, because I was never there....) I was based in Harare in Zimbabwe and spent a lot of time travelling on short hop flights to the surrounding countries; Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique were the usual ones.
Malawi was a nice destination - reasonably good infrastructure, a reasonably competent PTT (we were a heavy user of leased lines) and lovely friendly people. The capital of Malawi is Lilongwe, but the main business city, where our main Communications Centre was, is Blantyre. I'd try to plan my trips to come back to Harare on a Friday; there was an early flight from Blantyre to Lilongwe, a few hours wait in Lilongwe during which I could visit our small Comms Centre there, and then a midday flight back to Harare giving me time for a couple of hours in the office to tidy up any loose ends before the weekend. Perfect.
One Friday I was doing this trip and everything went well until we boarded Air Zimbabwe's ageing Boeing 720 (a short range version of the old 707) in Lilongwe. The engines started and then shut off. We sat… and sat... From my window seat I could see the engineers under the wing with the covers open on one engine. Eventually we were put in a bus and taken back to the terminal with a promise of a short delay due to "technical problems". We were given a nice lunch of the local "Chambo" fish and then put back on the plane. The engineers were still under the engine and there were a few bits on the tarmac next to them. A lot of passengers were not happy. We were assured that we would be taking off before too long. It was hot and my seat was near the front, so I wandered up to the door to get some fresh air. None of the cabin staff were around so I wandered down the steps to talk to the engineers, one of whom I knew vaguely. (Yeah, I know this wouldn't have happened in America or Europe, but this was Africa...) They explained to me what the problem was.
One of the engine starters had gone faulty. So rather than get a new starter shipped up from Zimbabwe (which would have meant we wouldn't get home that day) they were going to get a good starter off another engine, swap it with the faulty one, start that engine, swap the starters over again, and then start the other 3 engines. Now once a jet engine is running, it's pretty unlikely to need restarting in mid-air, so this made perfect sense to me. Shortly afterwards I was herded back into the plane by a clucky hostess and I watched as they started one engine, swapped the starters back, closed up the engines and closed the doors and started the other 3 engines. We took off and got back to Zimbabwe without incident. I was impressed by the quick thinking of the engineers in solving their problem, but I can tell you there were a lot of anxious passengers on that flight!
Editor's note: my pile of travel stories is getting low. If you would like to see your story featured here, please send it to me. It doesn't have to be well written, I can help with that.
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