UK Politics

Libya unrest: UK rescue plane had a 'narrow escape'

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Media captionPictures from on-board the RAF Hercules on a recovery mission inside Libya. Courtesy MoD.

Disaster was narrowly averted when small arms fire entered the cockpit of a RAF C130 Hercules evacuating Britons and foreign nationals from Libya, it has emerged.

One round bounced off the pilot's helmet but he was unscathed during Sunday's rescue of oil workers.

Earlier, 50 Britons and 150 foreign nationals arrived in Malta on HMS Cumberland as evacuation efforts go on.

David Cameron said the UK is working to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.

The prime minister has also urged Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi to "go now", adding that the north African country had no future "that includes him".

The BBC's Frank Gardner confirmed details of the narrow escape during the evacuation of oil workers - 20 of whom were British - from the desert.

He said an insurgent group on the ground which fired at the aircraft had mistaken it for a Gaddafi regime plane. They have since apologised for the incident.

'Bang Bang'

Some of those rescued described the moment the Hercules was shot at, forcing it to abandon a landing.

One British oil worker said: "The aircraft took two hits on the right hand side of the fuselage, you just heard 'bang bang' as the rounds actually struck."

Another said after failing to land at two blocked off fields, the Hercules was trying again at a third when the firing started, forcing them to abort.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one of its C130 aircraft appeared to have suffered "minor damage consistent with small arms fire", adding that "there were no injuries to passengers or crew and the aircraft returned safely to Malta".

On Saturday, another 150 oil workers, many of them British nationals, were rescued from the desert by two RAF Hercules and flown to the safety of Malta.

They later caught flights back to the UK, which arrived at Gatwick airport on Sunday and early on Monday.


The government said HMS York remained in the region and was "ready to assist as required".

Some of those who left Malta on another British warship - HMS Cumberland - in the latest stage of the British evacuation operation, have spoken of their experiences of the unrest in Libya.

Marsden Sims, 63, a civil engineer from Tonyrefail near Pontypridd, told the Ministry of Defence that locals had set light to a reading room at his site, and that looters had targeted cars and property.

Image caption HMS Cumberland has arrived in Malta carrying some 200 passengers

"We didn't have direct trouble to begin with but when word spread from the TV reports, things got quite agitated," he said.

"We were in one works compound at Messla and a few nights ago we saw looters outside taking vehicles and equipment."

And 25-year-old Natalie Brooks, who is returning home to Birmingham with her son Mustafa and daughter Naimah, told the MoD: "We thought it safer with the security situation to get out and bide our time.

"Where we lived in the city was not particularly affected by the fighting, but you don't know if the situation is going to get more dangerous."

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