The attack on the aircraft of the King of Morocco 1972 (part 7)
On 10 July 1971, the Moroccan army carried out a failed coup against the king in the palace of Skhirat. The following year airmen committed a new coup, this time the plane of King Hassan II, on his return from France, was attacked in the air by jet fighters.
In the near future, the Amazigh Information Centum will publish more short articles on this historical event. We will do this by means of testimonies of persons who were present during this incident, such as the fighter pilot Salah Hachad or referencing books of critical authors such as Gilles Perrault, Stephen Smith or various newspaper articles.
Overflow: a military operation in the Riffian airspace
North Africa was hit by military coups during the Cold War. In Egypt, Colonel Jamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), together with other army officers, knocked King Faruk off the throne in the 1950s and then took over power. At the end of the sixties ‘Colonel’ Qadhafi (1942-2011) deposed the Libyan king Idris I with a military coup. In Algeria, the Minister of Defence, Colonel Houari Boumédiène (1932-1978), carried out a coup against President Ahmed Ben Bella in 1965 and then ruled over Algeria until his death.
On Wednesday 16 August 1972, Lieutenant Colonel Amekrane, who was no longer commander of Kenitra Air Base, surprised his old staff with a visit to the air base. Around nine o’clock, during breakfast in the officers’ mess, Amekrane joked with his friends: “You’re not rid of me yet, I’m back to lead the king’s military escort”. He ordered Captain Salah Hachad, Head of Operations at the airbase, to prepare six warplanes for the king’s escort and security. This is a simple task that the Air Force regularly carries out: during the King’s official flights and visits to Morocco by foreign heads of state, they were given a military escort of fighter planes.
On this Wednesday, King Hassan II will return from holiday in France using a three-engined private Boeing 727 which will take him from Paris to the Rabat-Sale airfield. Captain Salah Hachad carries out the order of lt Colonel Amekrane and he held a briefing where the names of the pilots who will escort the king were linked to the planes and where also the corresponding procedure is followed.
A squadron of six light fighter bombers of type F-5 will escort the Boeing of Hassan II as soon as the plane leaves the European airspace. According to the regulations of the Air Force, the escort aircraft must be armed, but in Morocco the escort of the king is not armed.
In the afternoon of this summer’s Wednesday, lt. Colonel Amekrane will take a seat in the air traffic control tower at Kenitra Air Base at around 2 p.m. in order to personally lead the operations. The formation of six fighter jets under the command of Captain Salah Hachad flies around 15:30 from Kenitra Air Base and sets course to the North, towards the Rif.
The F-5 squadron starts flying in circles in the triangular area: Tangier, Larache and Tétouan. The F-5’s have no radar board to detect their target. When the Boeing of the king leaves the European airspace, the crew of the Boeing will inform the airfield where the plane will land, Rabat-Sale, who will then inform the air traffic control of airbase Kenitra, the home base of the F-5 escort, by radio communication.
The F-5 squadron flies at 9000 meters, the altitude at which commercial aircraft fly. The leader of the formation, Salah Hachad, flies the two-seater F-5B. Behind him in the cockpit is Lieutenant Doukkali, the other 5 hunters were single-seaters F-5A and are flown by: Major Louafi Kouera, Lieutenant Abdelkader Ziad, Lieutenant Abdelhamid Boukhalif, Lieutenant Dahou and Captain Larabi El Haj.
The agreement of the escort is that at the sight of the Boeing the squadron of the 6 F-5’s has to split in two, three aircraft will fly next to the Boeing on the right side, the other three on the left side. The F-5 squadron receives a radio message from the control tower of Kenitra that the Boeing is flying into Moroccan airspace and shortly afterwards one of the F-5 pilots observed the Boeing with the naked eye.
Captain Hachad flies towards the Boeing to take up the escort position, he is followed by two hunters and suddenly he hears the message on the radio: get out! Then he hears shots. The operation with the code name Overflow started. An attack in the air on the plane of Hassan II. Three of the six F-5 hunters are armed, their weapons, the M39-cannons, are loaded with ammunition. The attack starts above the area between the cities of Moulay Bousselham and Ksar-el-Kebir. The Boeing has already started the landing and is between 10 and 15 minutes away from its destination, the airfield Rabat-Sale.
Major Louafi Kouera’s F-5 board gunners refused, after which he wanted to take a kamikaze action and said goodbye by radio: “Goodbye, friends, I’m going to sacrifice myself for my country,” but he used his ejection seat to leave the plane. His F-5 falls down, and he lands on his parachute.
Lieutenant Abdelkader Ziad shoots with one cannon, the second refuses, smoke came from one of the engines of the Boeing. Lieutenant Abdelhamid Boukhalif shouts: “That’s it, I’ve hit him!” The Boeing is getting closer and closer to the airport and the armed pilots have run out of ammunition.
Lieutenant Boukhalif gets an idea, he unloads kerosene from one of his spare tanks on the Boeing but nothing happens. The two aircraft that carried out the attack return to their base at very high speed. The other three, who are not armed, also return, flying after them.
The royal Boeing gets badly damaged, shakes, vibrates, swings, the air pressure drops, two of the three engines are out of action. On board two police officers are dead and Raymond Sasia, bodyguard of Hassan II, is wounded.
Translated by: Najat M.