Thanks to John Needham for this story which was written in response to a post on this website about RAF Gan.
Back in February/March 1973 RAF Gan was having patches of the runway repaired and one C-130 with two crews were detached there for a twice weekly service to Singapore for food and mail. I was a D cat flight engineer on 24 Sqn XV222 sent out with a screen eng to pick up some hours.
On the 18th February 1973, a couple of days after arriving, I was doing a morning pre-flight check as when not flying to/from Singapore we were to be on standby for possible search and rescue. A request came down as to how fast could we get airborne. Thinking this was for circuits and bumps, a slow response (as in no response) till we were told of a CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) task from Diego Garcia. Seems Gan Radio had overheard a USAF C-130 having to abort a flight to DG for technical reasons. Anyway, 30 minutes later we were airborne flying South to what we thought would be a tactical landing onto a desert island dirt strip.
Surprise, surprise! There waiting for us was a long strip of concrete. When we requested permission to land. DG air traffic asked us who we were. We told them that we had heard they had a medical emergency and we were there to pick up the person. And take him to RAF Gan and the hospital there.
The scene reminded me of the pacific islands shown in films during WWII. A long bit of concrete with dirt piled up along the sides with earth moving equipment all about.
We landed and took on board the patient and an American doctor. I was told the guy had an intestine blockage. Remembering when I was CASEVAC from Aden and the saline drip started going up the vent line rather than into me, I was aware of the effect of pressure change would have on a very unstable patient. So, taking off and landing at sea level, against normal operating procedures, I did a manual pressurisation of the aircraft to keep pressure change inside to minimum.
Two hours later the patient was on the operating table in RAF Gan hospital. One week later we flew him (and the doctor) out to Singapore on our twice weekly resupply flight.
So, that’s how/why the first RAF C-130 landed at Diego Garcia. But wait, there’s more.
A couple of weeks later a Royal Navy group were flown into Gan from Singapore by our crew. The next day the other crew flew the group and some Gan personnel down to DG for the day. They were treated royally coming back with tales of the day.
On the 2nd March, we were again headed to DG, this time to CASEVAC one of the Royal Navy guys to Singapore. We landed in the middle of a tropical rain storm. When we came to a stop at the end of the runway we shut down the outboard engines because of the ground equipment all over the place, turned into wind and were stuck there, unable to continue because of the wind acting on the fin like a weather cock. After a few minutes the wind dropped and we were able to get onto the parking pan.
As well as taking on board the Royal Navy guy, we also uplifted some fuel. Having started our engines, the captain asked if I had the fuel chit. I hadn’t, so down out of the aircraft to ask the American ground crew for the paper work. They denied any knowledge of giving us any fuel.
They had quickly realised that we were operating two crews on the aircraft and they had ‘rewarded’ the wrong crew on the day visit. So, their way of showing appreciation of us saving one of theirs was to ignore the fuel uplift.
So, there you have the real background story to Les Bywater’s picture and story on a website on Diego Garcia.