by Keith Nordstrom
May 19, 2001
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
KOSOVO -Getting home from
Kosovo wasn't easy.
When the Greek soldier got
on the bus at the Kosovo-Macedonia border, pointed his gun
in my direction and said 'Off the bus. Now!' I should have
taken it as an omen. Getting home wasn't going to be easy.
The four of us, me, Sun
Chronicle photo editor Keith Nordstrom, WHDH-TV reporter
Caterina Bandini and WHDH photojournalist Trung Dang, were
in for a difficult few days.
The soldiers at Camp Bondsteel
in Kosovo had told us before we headed out for our return
trip to the states that our KFOR press passes wouldn't be
accepted at the border and we might have to get off the
military bus and walk the dusty, chaotic mile or so into
They warned us: "Follow
their orders. Don't give them any lip." We didn't.
It's tough to talk back to a guy armed with an M16.
I stepped off the bus first,
walked a few feet and spotted a GI smoking a cigarette.
"How's it going?" I asked. "Want a ride?"
he asked. I jumped in his humvee figuring the other three
had sought out another humvee. Minutes later Bandini's face
was at the door with the others trailing behind. The four
of us packed in the rear with Keith and I using an oily
spare tire for a seat. The fun was just beginning.
Once in Macedonia we had
to surrender the press passes we had hoped to hang onto
as souvenirs, and then waited around for hours for the scheduled
C-130 flight back to Germany.
Late in the afternoon we
jumped aboard the old plane which was already revved and
ready to go. A crew member gave us rapid instructions on
what to do in case the planed crashed, cutting it short
because we were taking off with the words " Hey, what
can I tell you? If we crash, just find a hole in the fuselage
and jump out." Omen No. 2.
The flight itself was calm
and filled with breathtaking views of villages below in
the snow-covered Swiss Alps.
We arrived at Ramstein Air
Force Base in Germany too late Tuesday night to book a room
in the charming B&B we had spent a night in a week earlier,
so we ended up bunking at a hotel in a mini red-light district
next to bars named after women -- "The Lisa Bar"
is one example -- and decorated with large hearts made of
neon lights. Omen No. 3
The hotel turned out OK,
however, and we enjoyed what we thought would be our last
night in Germany eating well and drinking some powerful
German beer. For the first time since the trip began a week
and a half before, we were able to get more than a few hours
We spent Wednesday sightseeing
in the picturesque town of Kaiserslautern before checking
in at Ramstein at 5 p.m. for our return trip home on a gigantic
C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.
That's when the real fun
Upon arrival we learned
a few things: The plane was delayed by a few hours; we'd
be the only passengers on it, and oh, it's carrying sensitive
cargo, i.e., explosives. Omen No. 4.
Just before 10 p.m. we finally
boarded. Pallets of grenades and other explosives filled
the cargo bay. We clambered upstairs, plugged our ears with
earplugs to lessen the engine roar (one of the many negatives
of flying on a C-5), and prepared for the eight-plus hour
trip to Dover, Del.
"Did they tell you
guys we are refueling over the Atlantic?" one of the
crew members asked. They hadn't. Refueling, he told us,
is quite an experience. "Do you like rollercoasters?"
he asked. Great. Omen No. 5.
Turns out the plane had
some mechanical problems that first had to be worked on,
then there were deer on the runway that had to be chased
off, then the crew had to seek permission from the town's
officials because they had missed the take-off curfew of
10 p.m. Omens, 6, 7 and 8. At around midnight we finally
The trip, however, wasn't
meant to be. About an hour out, one of the crew members
came running up from the cargo hold to inform us we had
to prepare for an emergency landing. Our landing gear had
become locked with the wheels turned to the side instead
of forward. Omen No. 9. Great. Well, we figured (at least
some of us), if we crash we'll go out in a big way thanks
to the explosives on board.
Turns out the crew was able
to land the plane rather smoothly and without incident.
We were greeted by a dozen or so fire trucks and other emergency
crews. It was now closing in on 2:30 a.m. which meant our
chances of finding an inn were slim. We ended up bunking
in crew quarters -- something that is apparently against
Air Force rules --thanks to some finagling on the part of
our media escort, U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Rick Scavetta.
Bandini called Channel 7
and I called The Sun Chronicle to tell them not to count
on us being back at the office anytime soon. The four of
us then shuffled off to bed after 3 a.m. for about four
On Thursday, though exhausted
and stressed out from days of little sleep and lots of work,
we set off to visit the ruins of a castle. It beat hanging
around the air terminal all day. We ended up spending hours
eating and enjoying a picture-perfect day at a superb hillside
caf'e9 just below the castle. Live it up, we figured. It's
our last day. We were wrong.
Again we checked in at 5
p.m. only to be told that the plane was again delayed and
this time, instead of having the luxury of an entire row
of plane seats to ourselves, the plane would be full. Omen
No. 10. Military, their families and retirees often use
the C-5 for transport.
"What about the explosives?"
we asked. Turns out it didn't matter. Families with children
simply sign a waiver and they, too, are good to go.
After hours of waiting around
we took a bus to what they call the `` hot pad'' where the
explosives are loaded. Again we waited. Finally the plane's
captain came out to tell us that this plane, too, wouldn't
be flying. The rear emergency door wouldn't open, he said.
No passengers allowed in the rear. Omen No. 11.
The scene back at the air
terminal was chaotic -- two pay phones and a hundred or
so people scrambling to call family, cabs, hotels. We learned
another C-5 was scheduled to take off Friday morning, spending
about six hours in the Azores, before continuing on to Dover.
Ground crew members, however, who we learned knew more about
the fickle ways of the C-5 than just about anyone else,
told us on the sly we'd be risking it. Getting out on a
C-5, apparently, wasn't meant to be.
If that one doesn't take
off, we'd be stuck in Germany until at least Saturday. Not
that that's a bad thing, but we knew we had jobs to get
back and besides, we were beginning to stink. By this time
we had run out of clean clothes and those we wore were splattered
over with thick red Kosovo mud. We were tired of hauling
our backpacks around along with WHDH's heavy TV equipment.
We were tired of spending hours in the air terminal, tired
of making late-night hotel arrangements and our money was
There was only one way out
-- go to Frankfurt and fly commercial. We phoned our offices
and within an hour or so The Sun Chronicle's ever-efficient
Danielle Fournier, with the blessing of our publisher Oreste
D'Arconte, had us booked on a last-minute Air France flight
from Frankfurt to Paris to Boston for Friday. WHDH, with
the help of Fournier, was able to book the same flight for
Bandini and Dang. We were able to get a room at the B&B.
Things were finally beginning to look up.
At the B&B the owner,
Anna, told us that a military officer waited for almost
two weeks last summer to leave Germany on a C-5. That made
us feel a little better.
On Friday morning our taxi
driver told us that our media escort, who had tried for
the 5 a.m. C-5, wasn't able to take off and was also on
his way to Frankfurt.
The flight to Paris was
smooth and comfortable. Drinks and snacks were served. When
the pilot announced in French "Welcome to Paris,"
we looked at each other and smiled. Finally, we were on
our way home.
THE SUN CHRONICLE'S Craig
Borges and Keith Nordstrom, and WHDH-TV's Caterina Bandini
and Trung Dang, returned to Boston from Germany Friday evening,
May 11, after covering local troops serving as NATO peacekeepers