Two Turkish airline pilots have gone missing. The aircraft they flew to Beirut on August 9 is just fine, as is their cabin crew, but these two men simply vanished into thin air … and almost no one is talking about them.
Captain Murat Akpınar (L) and his first officer, Murat Ağca (Lower Right), were kidnapped August 9 from a crew bus as they left Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (OLBA), headed for their hotel. Syrian rebels claim to be holding them hostage for leverage in gaining the release of a number of Lebanese Shiites who were themselves kidnapped in Syria last year. The rebels believe the Turkish government can and should do more to pressure the Assad regime to release the Lebanese prisoners.
No small surprise that Twitter and Facebook posts don’t carry the weight in Lebanon that they do elsewhere in the world, but if these had been two British Airways, or KLM or Air France pilots grabbed in Beirut, people would be hovering outside the embassies demanding answers We’d be tweeting and Facebooking all over the place. Not in Lebanon apparently and not for a couple of Turkish pilots.
When I queried the Turkish Air Line Pilots Association for an AIN story, they told me, “The Lebanese and the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs are handling this issue. We are also closely monitoring developments on this subject with the Turkish press spokesman of foreign affairs. This is a delicate situation; therefore, for the safety of our colleagues we cannot provide any further information. We have been working with great precision and are making every effort to ensure our colleagues return to their homes in good health and rejoin their families and us.” A Lebanese court did issue an arrest warrant last week for 10 individuals suspected of involvement with the abduction, but no one has been caught to date.
Yesterday I asked the Turkish Airlines media people about the disappearance two and a half weeks ago. In a prepared statement, the airline’s Senior VP for media relations, Dr. Ali Genc would only say, “Please kindly be informed that this issue is followed up with the coordination of our relevant public authorities. We hope it will be resolved soon with good news. We are not able to make any further comments on that issue at this point.” In a couple of queries to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots (IFALPA) in Montreal, they too said they’d heard nothing.
Certainly no one wants to make a fragile situation worse for these two aviators, but at least when the Brazilians grabbed the two Legacy pilots in 2007, we knew they were alive. Not here though, except for a comment attributed to Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel that the pilots are in good health.
I’m left wondering … where’s the industry outrage and demand for information on these two … a photo, a recording, something? Perhaps readers elsewhere in the world can fill the rest of us in because no one seems to be talking.
What actions have the business aviation or airline community in the west taken to ensure the safety of other pilots headed to the region? I doubt carrying a weapon will sit very well with anyone. Security escorts perhaps? I realize the West is busy beating the tom-toms to take a whack at Mr. al-Assad, but is this kidnapping just the leading edge of a new wave of hostage taking with flight crews as bait? We can only hope not.
So stand by … and hope we see these two men soon … because right now, standing by seems to be all anyone is doing.
Rob Mark, publisher