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Events in Gander -- An Overview

Prelude: Soldiers in the Sinai

Troop Movement and Security

Post-Crash Investigation

The Toxicology Reports: Burned Alive

Arms to Iran: Enter One Oliver North

The Governments' Lines


List of Sources

Gander: The Untold Story

Troop Movement and Security

From the moment the troops were destined to leave for home from the Sinai, an unusual sequence of events occurred that have been dismissed as irrelevant. Before this particular movement of troops, all troops serving in the Sinai had departed from the Ras Nasrani airport in the southern part of the Sinai, relatively close to the South Camp set up for the MFO. Yet on this flight, Army officials were notified that this airport would not be available for use by large planes due to construction on the main runway. This meant that the soldiers would be flown by Egypt Air Boeing 737s to the Cairo International Airport, where they would then depart on the larger Arrow Air DC-8. (2:133) Although this may have seemed but an inconvenience to the troops and to the Army, it required that all baggage be transported by way of truck to the airport in Cairo. Customs officials from Egypt and the U.S. participated in searching all unit and stores equipment, which included only baggage stored in a cargo compartment and not carry-on gear. The trucks were loaded and an Egyptian Customs Seal was placed on the sealed trailers. The trucks arrived in Cairo on December 10, a whole day before the troops even began to leave the South Camp in the Sinai. (5:1)

Upon arrival at the airport in Cairo, the trucks were parked in the streets outside the airport before being moved to a guarded area of the airport. Two U.S. soldiers guarded the baggage round the clock until around 4:00 p.m. On December 11, the truck drivers took over the guard themselves and allowed the guards to prepare for departure. At approximately 8 p.m., the seal on the baggage trucks was broken by an Army official, and the loading began 30 minutes later by an Egyptian-contracted loading firm. (7:404-405)

The unusual events begin to unfold further here, when the pilot of the plane noticed that the Egyptian guard stationed on the ground outside the aircraft would "disappear from his post several times, sometimes for as long as an hour." Captain Arthur Schoppaul also noted that the baggage workers got into a fist fight outside the aircraft, which struck him strangely since Arabs rarely touch one another due to religious beliefs. (7:418) There was a time when there was no light around the aircraft due to a power cord that had been pulled out on the tarmac. (2:145) During the loading, there were no U.S. personnel in the cargo holds supervising the contracted Egyptian workers, none of whom had been screened by the U.S. officials. (7:182)

When the cargo bays of the DC-8 were full, an interesting situation arose; there were still 41 of the soldiers' duffel bags that could not be loaded. Many of the bags were bumped off the plane due to several "large, wooden crates" that were loaded onto the plane first. (7:182) An Arrow Air manager recalled that Lieut. Colonel Marvin Jeffcoat, the battalion commander, insisted that the boxes be loaded first, and if necessary, that duffel bags be removed to accommodate the boxes, as they contained "very important, military material." (2:146) This struck many of the crew members oddly since it is "unusual to separate a soldier from his equipment." One of the 10 to 20 of these crates had not been transported on the baggage truck with the other baggage and boxes, but had been flown in the belly of one of the 737s to Cairo. (2:147) Where was this box kept while the other baggage in the trucks was being guarded? Despite attempts to identify the contents of these boxes through Army records, no official records of the boxes, or their contents, have been found.

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