A group of Vintage Air Rally aviators detained in Ethiopia has been released. Earlier this month, 24 aviators, who are part of Vintage Air Rally, also known as VAR, along with their families, friends, and technicians, set out to recreate an 85-year-old air rally route from Europe to South Africa.
The pilots were accompanied by an impressive crew of more than 40 people to help maintain their old biplanes. Most of the aircraft dated between the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the aviators are seniors from France, Germany, the US, and Great Britain with the oldest being 72 years old.
Among the crew is infamous pilot Maurice Kirk, the British vet has made headlines over the years for getting in various troubles with the law both in Europe and the United States.
He got in hot water for illegally taking part in an event in England with a bug-infested plane, and he was arrested after he landed his plane at George W. Bush’s Texas ranch.
The week, Kirk’s name was spread in every major British paper after it was reported that he went missing. It took several days for VAR to locate Kirk and his 1943 Piper Cub plane near the border of Sudan and Ethiopia.
The group of aviators left the Greek island of Crete on November 12 with the plan to fly over ten countries and making 37 stops including in Cairo, the highlands of Ethiopia, Mount Kilimanjaro, the island of Zanzibar, and the Victoria Falls in less than four weeks.
The trip is scheduled to end in Cape Town, South Africa on December 17. It was smooth flying for the first days of the journey. The crew landed near the famous Giza pyramids in Egypt and later traveled to Khartoum, Sudan with plans to go onward to Ethiopia and Kenya.
However, their plans were drastically altered after landing in Gambella, Ethiopia. The group was detained after the country’s officials deemed that they do not have the proper authorization to fly. The mini international incident prompted ambassadors from 10 countries to contact Ethiopian officials to find a way to resolve the matter.
Thursday afternoon, via Facebook, organizers of the journey announced that the pilots and their crew had been released – not to fly but have been moved to a hotel. A statement read:
“They have been released. We hope to leave Ethiopia. They have a hotel because they cannot fly when it’s dark. So they have to wait, so they should leave at first light tomorrow.”
There is no real explanation as to why the aviators were captured in the first place. Wesenyeleh Hunegnaw, director-general of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, said in a press conference:
“They did not have proper authorization. They are not under arrest. They are safe and will remain in Ethiopia until the review (of their situation) is concluded.”
Friends, relatives, and supporters of the aviators are thrilled they have been released and will be able to conclude their historic trip.