Email from Farnaz Fassihi to her friends. Fassihi is in Afghanistan reporting for the New Jersey Star Ledger.
I'm in Kabul.
How I got here is a tale in itself. In what sounded like an adventure and felt like ultimate lunacy once we were there, me, Jon and two other journalists who are now our inseparable friends, boarded the only existing aircraft in Afghanistan on its first flight in the past two months from Herat to Kabul Thursday.
It was all about “Inshallahs” and “Salavats” from beginning to end. The aircraft was a small 25 passenger Russian plane with two small engines. Aryana Airlines. It was old and rundown and it had just been repaired. The crew made a special flight from Kabul to Herat to come and check out a Boeing jet at an air base near Herat to see if they can get the jet going. They couldn't.
We were advised in less than 24 hours that we can fly on Aryana's flight to Kabul. We were told to pack and run to the airport in 30 minuets, before the flight. The email from my editor read: “Go to Kabul. But, do you really really want to be on Afghanistan's inaugural flight?” We thought how bad can it be?
We get to the airport and there are blown apart burnt and bombed pieces of airplanes scattered all around us. In the middle of the runway was a huge black circle, the mark where a bomb had fallen and there were pieces of it laying around.
We hand carried our bags, which were not checked, to the aircraft and someone tossed them up. We climbed on four rickety stairs into the plane, which looked like a rundown teen-age clubhouse. There was no radar. There are no air traffic control towers in this country any more. The pilot told us he was relying on complete visibility to fly over the mountains and navigate the plane. “Inshallah we will make it to Kabul alive,” he said.
We sat in our broken seats for two hours before finally someone said “Get out. There is a delay.” Why? There was no electrical power on the plane and they wheeled a giant generator to jump start the plane. At that point I was ready to abandon ship. But I couldn't. We were at the point of no return and my three-male traveling companions reminded me this is what covering a war was all about. I took two Dramamines and shut my mouth.
The few Afghan passengers who were going with us spread a prayer rug on the runway and started praying. Finally the engine gave a few sighs and the pilot signaled for us to jump on.
The flight was rather smooth because it was a clear day but every time I remembered I was in the skies of Afghanistan, over snowy mountains on a 50-year-old damaged plane with no radar and electricity. panic set in. We had a very rough landing on the taxi runway of Kabul airport. A U.S. hawk missile is sitting unexploded in the middle of the main runway.
We got out and said to ourselves, you can't make this shit up.