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Helicopter Pilot Kidnapped......Twice!
By Jim Trevors


During his time flying in Nigeria, Dave had the distinguished privilege of being kidnapped twice. It was a hot and humid night near the Niger Delta and Dave was enjoying a few drinks with some other pilots at a makeshift garden bar just outside the company’s accommodation camp. Kidnappings of expats and oilfield workers were not uncommon, but they had drank at the bar before and felt safe with an armed guard sitting outside.

As the night wore on the mood was relaxed and Dave wasn’t too alarmed to feel a hand clamp down on his shoulder from behind. He slowly turned around expecting to see one of his mates but Dave’s world was suddenly shattered as he now stared down the barrel of an AK47 rifle. Three huge Nigerians rushed forward and mobbed Dave. A sack was pulled over his head and he was bundled quickly away from the bar and into a waiting minivan. One of the Nigerians began wildly firing his AK above the heads of the others as a warning to stay back and Dave found out later that the guard outside the bar had been held at gunpoint while they made their abduction. The whole thing was over in less than a minute and Dave was now being driven at speed away from the township, and was getting a few punches and kicks from his captors as they showed they meant business. 

The sack over Dave’s head was tightened around his neck and his hands were bound behind his back.

After a short time the van screeched to a halt and Dave was hauled outside, pushed roughly from behind and made to walk blindly forwards. After a short stumbling walk Dave was suddenly lurched forward into midair and crumpled about ten feet lower onto what was apparently a wooden dock. The Nigerians laughed and dragged him a few feet and bundled him into a small open boat for what would become about a three-hour trip up the vast and confused tributaries of the Niger Delta. Dave had been an American Green Beret in an earlier life before aviation, but he knew that any attempt at escape from these people would mean a certain bullet. So he quickly decided to co-operate, but to stay alert for an opportunity if one came along.

After several hours the boat’s speed slowed and Dave could hear the excited yelling of kids and the jubilant talking of adults as they pulled into a remote settlement. Dave was dragged from the boat and marched up a track as excited Nigerians bounced around him, coming in close for the odd slap or punch. He sensed he was amongst a collection of riverside huts in one of the remote settlements that dotted the swampy landscape.

Dave was stuffed inside a small wooden box about the size of a phone booth where he would spend the next three days. In the morning the sack was removed and his hands untied but he was now locked securely inside this hot and cramped box and no doubt guarded by an armed and angry Nigerian. He got a look at his captors when the door was opened each day with food and water, and they were huge, mean looking and muscled with AK47’s and bush machetes. Dave knew that escape was going to be difficult.
He needn’t have worried.

On the fourth day in the box Dave was suddenly awakened by a fierce gunfight. He lay flat on his stomach while all around him the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air. After a couple of minutes the noise stopped as quickly as it had begun and the door to Dave’s box was suddenly flung open. As he blinked in the bright sunlight his confusion quickly turned to jubilation. It seemed he had just been liberated. The villagers had scattered and his Nigerian captors lay dead on the ground, killed by a group of a dozen or so camouflaged and fit looking soldiers. This group looked professional and well organized. The apparent leader walked over to Dave, helped him out of the box and led him toward a couple of new boats which were parked on the riverbank a little way downstream from the settlement.
They climbed into a boat and began to head back down the small river.

Dave was rapt and he began to thank these new Nigerians and he asked who they were. They didn’t say a word and Dave assumed that his helicopter company had paid his ransom and that these guys were a military unit or possibly mercenaries sent to rescue him.

They snaked their way down a maze of tributaries for an hour or so toward the main river system but when the boats changed course and began to head upstream once more in a new direction Dave’s spirits began to sink. With a slow realization it seemed that he wasn’t headed toward Port Harcourt and freedom. Instead Dave had just been kidnapped for a second time.

The boats traversed a maze of waterways for another couple of hours and eventually pulled up onto a small beach. They climbed out and walked for about twenty minutes up a narrow track before emerging into the clearing of a bush camp. It was a typical National Geographic scene as scarved women stood in front of smoky huts, straddling infants on their hips as they watched the arrival of their new guest.

The atmosphere was more of curiosity this time after the hostility of the earlier camp, but Dave knew that escape would be virtually impossible from the jungled maze. He was led into a large hut with several dirty mattresses on the floor where a few Nigerians lay dozing as they escaped the jungle heat. Dave was given some food and the group’s leader finally spoke to tell Dave that he would be staying here with them until his ransom was paid. He was told he wouldn’t be harmed so long as he co-operated and didn’t try to escape.

After several days Dave began to notice the habits and patterns of this new group. They seemed more cohesive and disciplined and Dave wondered if he might be able to build a rapport with them from his own military background, which might open up an opportunity for him. The group’s leader had begun to talk a little to Dave and had seemed to relax slightly, and so one afternoon as he sat cleaning his rifle Dave wandered across to sit next to him. The leader spoke passable English, and he looked up from his dismantled rifle as Dave approached. The Nigerians would field strip their weapons every day for cleaning, but Dave had noticed that they didn’t disassemble them fully. So he offered to show the leader how to take the rifle further apart for a more thorough cleaning. Another soldier watched from nearby with his rifle intact and loaded, and so the leader thought for a minute before motioning to Dave to go ahead. Dave held up his hands as if to say, hey I’m not going to try anything funny, before he slowly reached across and picked up the frame of the rifle which had been field stripped. He carefully began to take the rifle further apart and showed the leader how to remove the smaller parts so they could be cleaned as well.

The leader was delighted and Dave spent the afternoon showing the others how to do a complete strip-down of their weapons for a more thorough cleaning. Dave explained that he had served in the army, and over the next week or so he began to show the Nigerians some basic operational tactics and field combat techniques.

Dave had just quietly shifted the value of his life. Instead of an anonymous foreigner he was now a commodity – something of value to the Nigerians, and as well as developing a rapport with his captors they began to realize that he was potentially worth more to them than a standard ransom. Meanwhile Dave hoped that negotiations were taking place back in Port Harcourt for his release, and that he might be set free again soon.

After about two weeks the leader came to Dave and told him that they would be taking a boat ride that night. He didn’t elaborate but Dave hoped that this might finally be the trip to freedom. He told Dave that for the rest of the day he must only eat the same food that the leader was given, and to not take any other food. Dave knew that sometimes when release negotiations had been concluded there could still be resentment within the captors who might try to poison the hostage, and that this instruction from the leader could be a good sign that freedom was near.

That afternoon Dave was taken to the hut of the village chief. He was escorted in through the animal skin door flaps and there in front of him was a set straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. An old, fat and regal looking Nigerian man sat in the middle of the hut atop a large ornately carved seat. He was draped with tiger skins and held a large spear, while a snarling tigers head sat on his head. Dozens of villagers sat proudly on the floor around the man, and they all turned to look at Dave. It seemed they had gathered to celebrate what Dave hoped was his successful ransom negotiation and they appeared to be waiting for a response from Dave.

So he stepped forward and began a long and dramatic story of how brave the village soldiers were and how strong the chief was and how they had the best village in the Delta and whatever else crap they were happy to listen to. None of these people appeared to speak much beyond a few words of English but they listened proudly and enthusiastically to how their warriors had overcome Dave and had triumphed in battle.

Some locally brewed drink and food was passed around and once the sun had set the soldiers walked Dave off down the track toward the water. The boats headed downstream through the darkness for several hours and eventually they began to approach the lights of a larger township. They pulled up to the riverbank and sat in the boats for about ten minutes before a car pulled up adjacent to their position above the river. The leader and two others took Dave up the bank and they all climbed into the car and were on the move within seconds. This was clearly a very well rehearsed operation and Dave was sure now that this was his release.

They drove for another hour or so and into increasingly larger developments before approaching the outskirts of Port Harcourt. They rendezvoused with another car and Dave and the leader climbed into the new vehicle and continued on their way into the city. They drove right to the helicopter company’s compound and stopped briefly at the gate before the armed guards waved them through, as if they had been expecting them. The driver pulled up right outside the main administration offices on the compound, which were now closed at this time of night, so Dave told the driver to continue to the next group of buildings where the compound bar was located.

Dave and the leader, who was now unarmed, walked into the bar and when the crowd of drinkers turned to see who had just walked through the door recognized Dave the place fell absolutely silent.

“Hi fellas, is John here?”

‘John’ the chief pilot came across and quickly took Dave and his friend out from the bar and across to his office. He pulled out a bottle of gin and all three took a huge drink. The Nigerian leader walked across to Dave’s boss and spoke a few words before turning back to Dave. They shook hands and the Nigerian walked out the door and was gone.It was over and Dave was free.

Early the next morning a group of people including an oil company representative and helicopter management and another man in a suit all met with Dave for a debrief. They told Dave that they had been negotiating hard for his release during the time that he was held and that his captors had finally agreed to the terms and agreed to release him. They spent the morning listening to Dave’s story to the minutest detail, all of which was recorded and transcribed.

One of the men at the meeting was introduced by first name only and his association with the group wasn’t given. Dave didn’t think much of it until he bumped into the man again at a subsequent meeting several days later.
Dave asked what he did and he said that he was a security consultant engaged by the insurance company who had ultimately paid Dave’s ransom.
He was there to gather information about the kidnappers and to establish whether they could be located and the money recovered.

He knew that Dave had befriended the group to strengthen his value, but when Dave told him that he had actually arranged for a sub-rosa meeting at a later stage the guy just about fell off his chair.

“You did what?!”

Dave told him that he and the leader had agreed on a discreet signal to be made at a specified place and time that would indicate that Dave wanted to meet the Nigerians again.

The following month, after the heat had died down, Dave had arranged to place some stones in a prearranged sequence on the ground in front of a hole in the netting into the accommodation compound. The number and sequence of the large stones would relate to a pre-arranged meeting place, and the number of small stones would refer to the number of days in advance that the meeting would take place. The security consultant carefully wrote down the specific instructions and directions to the pre-arranged meeting point.

On the agreed day of the next month the stones were laid out, and the following morning they had been rearranged into a position that confirmed that the message had been received. A few days later a security team was waiting in advance for the kidnappers, and when the Nigerians arrived at the meeting point they were all shot.

This true story is an excerpt from “Welcome to the Sky!” by Jim Trevors. The book is available in print and eBook format from www.nuclearshark.com

Posted in: Human Interest

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