A LOSCOE man was one of 53 British nationals who escaped Libya on the last Foreign Office-sponsored flight out of the strife-torn country.
Ian Donaldson, a 57-year-old oil worker, was reunited with his wife, Pat, at Gatwick airport on Saturday night.
Confronted by scenes of chaos at Tripoli airport, Mr Donaldson was ordered to grab hold of a line of British workers to prevent them being separated by the crowds.
He said: “The airport was total mayhem – you couldn’t move backwards or forwards. People were trying to get on a plane that was massively overbooked. I didn’t see any violence but I heard gunshots.”
Mr Donaldson spends seven months a year working out in the desert near the town of Ghailo, about 1,200km east of Tripoli. He said: “The local people were excellent – they offered us all sorts of protection. You felt as safe, as much as you could be.”
Last month the arrest of a human rights campaigner sparked off violent protests in the eastern city of Benghazi that rapidly spread to other cities. Violent clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters have left hundreds of people dead and thousands injured.
Now aid staff are battling to cope with an exodus that has seen some 140,000 people crossing into Tunisia and Egypt. Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has played down protests in the country and insisted that all his people love him.
Mr Donaldson has worked as a maintenance engineer in the oil business in Libya for 28 years and was there during the bombings of 1986.
Speaking of the weeks leading up to the conflict, he said: “Trouble was brewing in Libya. But you don’t know what’s going on. There’s always tension - it’s one of those places. You can’t just pack your bags every time someone goes ‘Boo!’ Unless there’s a gun pointing at your head it’s not for you.
“But the Foreign Office’s instructions were that we got out of the country, so I had to board a company plane to Tripoli in order to get on the chartered flight back to Gatwick. But I don’t get mixed up in politics. I think Libya is still as safe as any main town here on a Saturday night.”
He praised the rescue operation mounted by the Foreign Office and says he would be happy to return, saying Libya is safer than some UK towns. “Of the hundreds of people who have come out - no one said they’re never going back.
“It’s nice to be back with my family. At the moment I’m on vacation.”
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