All Those Wonderful Stories...
Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
Nothing was neutral about Transocean, it seemed, except perhaps its stance of neutrality
in the Arab Jewish situation that existed in 1948. Despite this fact, their international relations
were sometimes complicated by unusual circumstances.
In August of 1948, Transocean contracted with the International Refugee Organization
(IRO) for a flight from Paris to Australia with fifty European refugees. The flight plan was
complicated because some of the passengers were Jews. This meant that TAL would be
unable to take the most direct route and would need to avoid flying over any Arabian countries.
The plan called for the aircraft to be routed from Paris over Rome and Athens with the first
refueling stop to be Abadan, Iran.
Before take off, Captain Galvin "Ace" Sargent was handed a cablegram ostensibly from
TAL's office in Shannon, Ireland. Its instructions were for him to continue past Abadan and land
at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. The message was received without any
suspicion, and Sargent insisted that a confirmation of the new plan had been made en route
Before the transport's descent over Saudi Arabia and landing at Dhahran, the uneventful
flight was forced to deviate from the flight plan. The traffic control tower at Dhahran refused
permission to land.
In the middle of the Arab world, carrying a charter of Jews, and now low on fuel, the
situation looked bleak. Why was the flight plan changed by Shannon and now permission to
land denied? wondered Sargent.
After many airports in the Persian Gulf refused landing rights to Captain Sargent, the Iraqis
across the Gulf at Basra finally granted permission. The tower cleared aircraft to land and
refuel. When it came to a stop near the terminal, it was rushed by soldiers carrying rifles. Even
with the propellers still rotating and the cabin door still closed, the crew on deck knew they
were hostages in the hands of angry adversaries.
The stairs were rolled into place against the fuselage, and the door opened. The armed
guards took physical control of all flight personnel and passengers as well as the aircraft. Bob
Glattly, who was the TAL navigator, said that the soldiers threatened to kill everyone as they
herded them into a hotel at the airport. It was then that the crew realized the unfortunate
political significance of landing Jews in an Arab country.
Now out of radio contact with the world, the Transocean flight was reported as lost and
unaccounted for. Immediately, Transocean at Oakland, with the aid of the U.S. government and
her allies, tried to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Captain Sargent's plane. Three
days later, a pilot flying for an oil company landed at the airport and saw the Transocean plane.
After his departure, he reported its location on the ramp at Basra to the airline's Middle East
Orvis Nelson always believed that this incident was created by a nationalistic or
communistic group intent on stirring up international strife. The U.S. State Department, the
IRO, and Transocean headquarters negotiated for eighteen days before the aircraft and its
passengers were allowed to continue to the destination, Australia.
While it seemed Transocean's fate to fight for everything from route certificates to ramp
space, to rescuing its own aircraft, these incidents merely served to highlight the company's
ingenuity and corporate vitality.
by Arue Szura, Folded Wings, A History of Transocean Air Lines