Cyprus Aviation History – Part 2
The story of the last Cyprus Airways Trident to land at Nicosia International Airport on the morning of July 20th 1974
By Captain Emre Unel….
Following a coup by the Greek military against President Makarios of Cyprus on July 15th 1974, Turkey intervened militarily on the island 5 days later on July 20th.
There was fierce fighting for control of Nicosia International Airport (LCNC) between Turkish and Greek forces resulting in heavy loss of life. However neither side managed to gain control or considered backing down.
As a result of this the then commander of the UN Forces in Cyprus, Indian General Prem Chand ordered UNFICYP troops to take over the airport and declared the site a UN Protected Area. (UNPA) Since then the airport has remained closed and abandoned in the buffer zone between North and South Cyprus. The photo below shows how it looks today.
London Heathrow, evening of July 19th 1974
Flight CY317, Trident 1E, 5B-DAE was being prepared for its scheduled flight to Nicosia via Rome.
Due to the dramatic events on the island only 6 passengers were booked.
Concerned that an invasion was very likely Captain Adamos Marneros contacted Cyprus Airways management in Nicosia to request cancellation of the flight. The idea behind this was that it would be better to have at least one aircraft that could be used even from a base outside Cyprus to continue some form of service should Nicosia become unusable. However he was directed to operate the flight.
Upon arrival in Rome and still with great concern for his aircraft’s safety he again made a request to cancel the flight. When it was refused once more he decided to take on extra fuel so that if he would not be able to land in Nicosia he had sufficient reserves to return to Rome.
Passing Rhodos the crew noticed a flotilla of ships heading for Cyprus on their radar. Once over Cyprus despite the possible threat of Turkish fighters Cpt. Marneros decided to fly around the island to have a look at the current situation.
On a map he had drawn he noted the position of each ship. The majority of the ships were around the northern coast of the island. While overflying the bay of Famagusta he noted another large ship and four smaller ones which later turned out to be the British aircraft carrier Hermes and other British ships which had arrived there to evacuate British citizens in case of a conflict.
Cpt. Marneros then asked the Nicosia control tower to contact the military commander of Kyrenia and advise him of what they had seen on their radar. The reply from the commander was: “All is quiet in Kyrenia…” Not satisfied with that response he then asked the controller to request from the general manager of Cyprus Airways to divert back to Rome. But, he was ordered to land at Nicosia which he did at 03.55am local time.
Cpt. Marneros recalls that even before he was leaving the airport to go home he heard huge explosions and the whine of F104 and F100 fighters over Nicosia. At the same time he noticed 12 twin engined transport aircraft para-dropping Turkish troops in the area. The invasion had begun.
Less than an hour after the arrival of flight CY317 the airport was subjected to a fierce bombardment. This resulted in the total destruction of Cpt. Marneros’s aircraft 5B-DAE.
That morning three other Cyprus Airways Tridents were parked on the apron. Two were damaged, later repaired and flown out to continue operating for British Airways.
The third 5B-DAB was damaged so badly it had to be abandoned outside the carriers’ maintenance hangar where it still stands today bearing the scars of battle. It is riddled with bullet holes, its tyres are flat and the interior was stripped out. Its engines were used to help the other two Tridents escape.
The above account was published in “Airports of the World” magazine, March/April 2011 edition under the title “8 Days to Eternity”.
As soon as I read it I decided to try to meet Captain Marneros (now retired) personally and was able to track him down in England.
Over lunch at the Nicosia Hilton I was immediately impressed by Adam’s personality, a gentleman and true aviator of the highest class.
We discovered we not only had a lot in common but remarkably similar careers as well.
Needless to say we have been close friends ever since.
Adam’s story did not finish at the airport during that morning of July 20th 1974. He was also very lucky to survive the next couple of days.
Some 40 years later Adam had the opportunity to visit Nicosia Airport once more. See photos below.
The airport has remained as an untouched time capsule under United Nations control since then.
To read Part 1 of this look at nostalgia click here