Much has been said about the freedom fighters during the Libya uprising. But what could be referred to as freedom flights also played a major role in the revolution. Capt. Ali Sanusi risked his life several times to fly his BAe 146 into the battlefield. Fiona Galea Debono caught up with the heroic commercial pilot on the runway of the Malta International Airshow.

Capt. Ali Sanusi told his wife it was “either me, or Muammar Gaddafi” when he started flying civilian aircraft into the west of Libya, landing precariously on normal roads to transport rebels, weapons and supplies and build a lifeline that linked it to the east.

We just left, knowing we may never return. We just had to try

But even though he was risking his life, he never thought twice, and since that first trip on the BAe 146 to the battlefield in June, he clocked up 32 flights – each one equally dangerous.

“We were landing behind the Gaddafi forces, with no protection. They would be no more than 30 kilometres away.”

Speaking at the foot of the heroic BAe 146, on proud display at the Malta International Airshow, Capt. Sanusi is considered one of the pioneers of these operations, carried out to support the revolution.

The commercial pilot embraced the military operation. “We had to do it, or we would have been finished,” he said of the fact that he never looked back, doing as many as two flights a day, successfully landing an aircraft that is too heavy for normal roads.

“We just left, knowing we may never return. We just had to try,” he said of his state of mind and that of his co-pilot – his son – on the first flights.

The BAe 146 was the only solution to help the rebels in the west. “They had nothing – no food, no medicine. So we did many flights, landing on paved and unpaved roads, to transport aid as well as rebels and their leaders,” he said.

It was also thanks to these strategic flights, which transported many rebels to the mountains so they could enter the city from various areas, that Tripoli was freed so fast.

Asked why he was so prepared to risk his life, Capt. Sanusi said: “I did not care. We knew we had to free Libya… even at the cost of our lives.”

The civilian aircraft flew into the warzones without any form of air defence protection – neither weapons, nor electronic anti-missile warfare, said Brigadier General Mahanna Mohammed, deputy chief of operations of the Libyan Armed Forces.

“Carrying ammunition in that aircraft jeopardised their safety, regardless of the war,” he pointed out. “When a pilot carries ammunition, it is not according to air regulations, but they did it because they were brave,” he insisted.

Queues filed onto the BAe 146, which landed in Malta on Saturday. Parked by it was the Antonov 26, which arrived in Malta yesterday morning. Both endured major risks to “unite Libya”, said National Transitional Council member Abdul Karim Bazama.

“Politically, the teams from the air force and air cargo played a major role. The crews of the An-26 carried humanitarian aid, wounded and even dead bodies. They flew to some sort of airfields when even the navigation aids did not permit flying into these areas. But war is war. They did their job in extremely unsafe circumstances,” he said.

The whole fleet would now be concentrating on the south, with a focus on sending aid, and Capt. Sanusi was looking forward to starting normal operations, transporting food, medicine and vaccinations to the children, which have been lacking for the last six months.

Patients with kidney problems also had their medical needs, which had to reach them from Benghazi, and Capt. Sanusi would now be kept busy with that task.

Before he started recounting his story and again at the end, the man who risked his life 32 times in the last few months stressed his gratitude to the Maltese government for “helping us to free our country”.

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