British Airways Flight 149
A British Airways Boeing 747-136, similar to the aircraft involved in the episode.
|Date||2 August 1990|
|Summary||Passengers and crew taken hostage hours after the Gulf War started|
|Site||Kuwait City, Kuwait|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-136|
|Flight origin||London Heathrow Airport|
|Destination||Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, Kuala Lumpur|
British Airways Flight 149 was a flight from London Heathrow Airport to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (the former international airport for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), via Kuwait City and Madras (now called Chennai), operated by British Airways with a Boeing 747-136. The flight never travelled on after stopping at Kuwait International Airport, near Kuwait City, several hours after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the early hours of 2 August 1990.
The aircraft operating the flight, its passengers and crew were captured by Iraqi forces and many of the passengers and crew were initially detained and later became part of Saddam's 'human shields'. One passenger, a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family, Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, was killed by the Iraqis. Most of the remaining passengers were later freed, though at least one died during captivity; the aircraft itself was destroyed on site at the airport.
At 18:15 GMT on 1 August 1990, British Airways Flight 149 (BA 149) departed from London Heathrow Airport, its route to Kuala Lumpur took the flight via Kuwait City and Madras. The flight had been delayed several hours due to, according to the captain, a fault in the aircraft's auxiliary power unit. The flight had a scheduled stopover at Kuwait City; however, this was not cancelled or changed despite media reports of the worsening political situation in the region. Kuwait's larger neighbour, Iraq, had issued demands for territory to be surrendered to its control and had been staging a military buildup on the border between the two nations for weeks. On 1 August 1990, the same day as BA 149's flight, Iraq launched a military invasion of Kuwait.
At 01:15 GMT on 2 August 1990, BA 149 landed at Kuwait International Airport. The airport was deserted, with little-to-no staff on the ground, and several flights by other airlines had been cancelled at this point. There were reports that, prior to BA 149's landing, British military personnel had taken control of Kuwait Airport's control tower. In September 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated that BA 149 had landed at Kuwait hours prior to the invasion. However, passengers on board BA 149 reportedly heard gunfire and tank activity during their landing at Kuwait City.
At 2:20 GMT, Iraqi fighter-bombers reportedly bombed the airport's runway. At 4:30 GMT, both the crew and passengers on board BA 149 were transported by bus to the airport's onsite hotel. On 3 August 1990, it was reported that all of the 367 passengers and 18 crewmembers from BA 149 were safe and well. The empty aircraft itself was subsequently destroyed on the ground by an aircraft attack during the latter stages of the conflict; the destruction may have been an intentional act of the US military. Alternatively, the aircraft may have been destroyed by Iraqi ground forces during their withdrawal from Kuwait.
Detention of passengers
Most passengers were initially transferred to the airport hotel within the boundaries of the airport. Later on, passengers were confined to various hotels in Kuwait, also designated by the Iraqis for other foreigners to report to, including the SAS soldiers and Kuwait Regency Palace hotels. The Iraqis claimed the passengers to be "honoured guests", and were moved in the following week under armed escort by a mix of policemen and soldiers from Iraq, to locations in Kuwait and Iraq. The British transferees were accommodated primarily on the upper floors of the Melia Mansour Hotel; hostages from other nationalities were housed in different hotels.
|ABC News - "Hostages Released in Iraq"|
|BBC News - "Outrage at Iraqi TV Hostage Show"|
According to statements made by some of the ex-hostages, multiple passengers had witnessed atrocities such as attacks upon Kuwaiti citizens by Iraqi forces; some hostages had been themselves subjected to mental and physical abuse, including instances of mock executions and rape. After ten days, the detainees were dispersed to various military-industrial sites. Women and children were given the opportunity to return home in late August, whereas those who remained were used as "human shields", and transferred between sites. Sites would contain between eight and 20 detainees of mixed nationalities, typically British and American citizens, as well as French, German, Japanese and others.
Different national groups, including invalids and the bodies of individuals who died in captivity, were released at various stages. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath travelled in person to Baghdad for direct talks with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, and is credited with leading negotiations to successfully release the hostages taken. The last of the remaining US and UK hostages were released in mid December 1990.
Several court actions were raised by passengers against British Airways for negligence in landing at Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion, and for loss of property. On 15 July 1999, French passengers won damages from British Airways to the amount of £2.5 million. On October 2006, a group of passengers called for an independent public inquiry.
A 2007 documentary, commissioned and shown by the BBC and shown elsewhere by Discovery Channel, claimed that that the US and UK governments were aware almost as soon as Iraqi Armed Forces crossed the border and by 0300 Kuwaiti time were fully informed that an invasion had taken place and fighting had ensued. This awareness would have been at least an hour before BA149 touched down; during which several other flights had diverted to Bahrain or other alternative destinations to avoid a potential situation. In October 1992, Prime Minister John Major, who had taken over from Margaret Thatcher, denied any attempt to influence British Airways in regards to the decision to operate BA 149, however, this is contradicted by sworn statements that British Airways had in fact been briefed by MI6 and informed that it had been 'safe to fly'.
On 2 October 1992, in response to a question on the issue, Major said "I can confirm, however, that there were no British military personnel on board the flight". However, the 2007 documentary included an interview with an anonymous former SAS soldier, who claimed that he and his team had been on Flight 149 for the purposes of intelligence gathering in Kuwait. Several soldiers also confirmed to a parliamentary investigation that they had participated in such a mission, and that this mission had been at the request of the British government and authorised directly by the prime minister.
- Last Flight to Kuwait, BBC Two, 19 March 2007.
- Jempson, Mike and Andrew Marshall. "Was BA 149 a Trojan horse?: The British government faces questions over whether a passenger flight into occupied Kuwait was planned or was an intelligence failure". The Independent, 9 August 1992.
- "Ba Flight 149." House of Commons, 27 April 2007.
- "The Gulf." House of Commons, 6 September 1990.
- "British Airways Passengers, Crew Safe." New Strates Times, 3 August 1991. p. 1.
- Jempson, Mike and Andrew Marshall. "Fighters over Kuwait as BA 149 flew in." The Independent, 30 August 1992.
- "Putting Noncombatants at Risk: Saddam's Use of "Human Shields" ". Central Intelligence Agency, January 2003. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- "UK hostages describe Kuwait ordeal". BBC News, 16 October 2006.
- "Iraq's hostages subject to abuse, freed French say." Lost Angeles Times, 31 October 1990.
- "1990: Iraq frees British hostages." BBC - On This Day, 10 December 1990.
- Watson-Smyth, Kate."Jet passengers held hostage by Iraq sue BA." The Independent, 8 August 1999.
- "Ex-hostages demand UK inquiry." BBC News, 16 October 2006.
- BBC News- "BA loses Iraq hostage appeal "
- Pre-destruction photos of destroyed aircraft on Airliners.net
- "Can we trust our rulers ever to tell the truth?" Stephen Davis, New Statesman, 28 July 2003