Friday, September 13, 2013

Nov. 20, 2011, Kaieteur News, Saving lives from Jim Jones' killers; Veteran pilot Astil Rodwell Paul is a special person, by Michael Jordan,

November 20, 2011, Kaieteur News, Saving lives from Jim Jones' killers …Veteran pilot Astil Rodwell Paul is a special person, by Michael Jordan,
Pull quote: "There was a woman in the aircraft who was shot in the head. I didn't know she was injured, because she was sitting with her hands folded.
"I said to her: 'Madam, you have to come off the aircraft', and she didn't answer.
"I touched her on her shoulder, but she didn't move. I didn't see any blood. We lifted her off the chair, and as we were taking her down the steps, her whole scalp came off and her brains fell on the steps…"
It may seem strange that the anniversary marking the most terrifying day in Astil Rodwell Paul's life went by last week without him giving it a thought.

Retired pilot, Captain Rodwell Paul

After all, he was right there when the killing began; hiding in the bushes with bullets whistling over his head, and later cleaning the wounds of the injured with rum and strips of cloth from a torn undershirt.

And he's just at that age when retired men like to knock back a drink or two while swapping stories.

But Mr. Paul is not one to seek the limelight. It is only now, 33 years after the Jonestown massacre, that this 65-year-old former athlete, old QC boy and respected pilot, has finally decided to divulge exactly what happened on that fateful day at Port Kaituma.

He was born on August 15, 1946 at Suddie, Essequibo, to Sidney and Lucille Paul.

His father, a postmaster, worked at practically all of the post offices on the Essequibo Coast. He also did stints in Georgetown and at Fort Wellington.

His mother, a teacher, taught at Johanna Cecilia and Riverstown Primary, which the young Rodwell Paul also attended. He had three other brothers and two sisters.

The family eventually came to live in Georgetown in 1955, and Rodwell, a bright student, attended the prestigious Queen's College Secondary. Not only did he excel academically, but he was also one of the school's outstanding athletes.

Mr. Paul remembered the year he won the 100 yards, 220 yards, 880 yards and the mile.

Little did he realize that his athletic skills would one day mean the difference between life and death.

At a young age, his parents took him on holidays to Barbados and Trinidad, and he believes that those journeys by plane fuelled in him the urge to become a pilot.

After leaving Queens College, he became employed at the Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC). Yearning to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot, young Rodwell Paul traveled to New York to study aviation.

To pay for his studies he worked in a factory that manufactured electrical wire, and also worked at one time in Wall Street.

He described this as a challenging time, since he was working a 07:00 to 11:00 hrs shift, which allowed his time to go home, rest, and then attend school in the afternoon.

"It was quite a challenge to work and study, but I got a lot of family support."

At the age of 23, he eventually gained a government scholarship to complete his studies at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

His course lasted one year and he returned to Guyana as a qualified pilot in 1971. On his return he continued to work at the Guyana Airways Corporation.

Besides local flights, he made trips to Trinidad and Barbados and Cuba and even to the US.

But it was while flying in a small GAC Twin Otter plane that he had his memorable adventure.

It was Saturday, November 17, 1978, [sic] and he was undergoing command training under Chief Pilot Captain Guy Spence.

It appeared to be a routine flight to Port Kaituma to pick up US Congressman Leo Ryan and his team, who had visited Jonestown, a commune in the Port Kaituma jungle that was headed by the 'Reverend' Jim Jones.

"We knew of Jonestown because Jonestown was alive and kicking. They had a basketball team and they travelled a lot with GAC.

"On that day, I was in the left hand seat but under training. On arrival I flew over the airstrip and saw a truck parked in the middle of the strip. Because of the landing and take off capabilities of the Twin Otter, I had enough room to stop and land before getting to the truck.

"On landing, one of the guys from Jonestown came up and said that Congressman Ryan and party would be here shortly. It was around ten minutes to six, and as it was getting late; we had to take off before sunset. As it happened, the Congressman and his party started arriving by tractor/trailer, and as they got to the aircraft, I went outside to get the names of the passengers, so that we could estimate the bodyweight before takeoff, and try to get them on board quickly because we were running out of time."

What Captain Paul saw when he flew over Jonestown
It was while he was doing this that Mr. Paul heard an unusual sound. His first thought was that someone was throwing stones at the aircraft.

"But then I saw people falling in front of me, and I realized that we were getting some problems."

The 'problem' that was unfolding before the pilot's eyes was that Jim Jones' men were shooting at the plane to prevent it from taking off with Congressman Ryan's team and some defectors from Jonestown.

They realised that once Ryan left, the sordid stories about the jungle commune would reach the entire world.

By this time, some of the passengers were scrambling into the plane.

"People had started to rush on board the aircraft. They had a problem, but I was not aware of it, so I was trying to put boarding arrangements in place, but they started to rush onto the aircraft. Then I spoke to a young lady by the name of Jackie Speier, trying the get her to give me the names of the persons to travel.

"There were about 50 persons trying to get on board, but we could only take about 17 passengers.

"So after the shooting started and I realized that people were falling, I ran to the other side of the aircraft. We had already started one engine, which we sometimes do to get people's attention that we are in a hurry.

"There were some photographers on the right side of the aircraft taking pictures. I was trying to get them to stop. They were walking backwards to the right propeller, which was spinning.

"As I was trying to get them to move, two of them fell. They had been shot. I remember someone saying to me 'lie down, lie down', and that is what I did.

"But as I was lying down, I heard the bullets passing over me. I felt that was too close for comfort, so I decided to get up and run for my life."

Rodwell Paul recalled the advice he'd often received from his coach at Queen's College: run and let your knees touch your chest. He sprinted for his life.

"I ran east of the other side of the runway, and I lay down in some tall bushes. But while there I heard the bullets hitting the bushes. I was lying on my back and seeing the tops of the bushes being cut (by the bullets)."

He decided to run again. "I remembered seeing a truck in the middle of the airstrip. I started running to the truck and I remember seeing some guys looking at me. I ran past the truck and I saw a GDF aircraft that had broken down on the west side of the airstrip and I ran there for cover and jumped into a ditch."

He remained there until he saw the tractor and trailer with the shooters driving off. “There was one guy with a red bandanna who was carrying small arms and shooting to ensure that everybody stayed down."

When he was certain that the shooting had subsided, he headed back to the GAC aircraft.

One bullet had passed through the left side of the plane and struck the engine's right, damaging the fuel control unit.

"I went into the cockpit and sent a radio message to Georgetown. We were trying to get the wounded on board but couldn't get the engine started. When I looked into the cabin, the American Charge d'Affaires (Dick Doyer) [sic] showed me where he was shot three times in the buttocks.

"After recognizing that we couldn't get the engine started, we decided to get everybody off the aircraft. I tried to assist the persons that were wounded, since I realized that we couldn't bring them to Georgetown."

There were no medical personnel around, so the pilot had to improvise. He had been through crises before; sometimes assisting to deliver babies on planes, and also dealing with passengers who had suddenly died during a flight.

"I got two bottles of XM Rum. I always wore an undershirt and what I did was tear it into pieces and clean the bullet wounds with the alcohol."

But for some of the passengers, it was already too late.

"There was a woman in the aircraft who was shot in the head, but I didn't know, because she was sitting with her hands folded.

"I said to her: 'Madam, you have to come off the aircraft', and she didn't answer.

"I touched her on her shoulder, but she didn't move, but I didn't see any blood. We lifted her off the chair, and as we were taking her down the steps, her whole scalp came off and her brains fell on the steps."

The woman was later identified as Jonestown defector, Nancy Parks.

Congressman Ryan was also dead. He had been riddled with bullets before being shot in the face. Don Harris, a reporter from NBC, Bob Brown, a cameraman from NBC; San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson and defecting Temple member, Nancy Parks, were also among the dead.

Nine others, including Ryan's aide, Jackie Speier were wounded.

"I was faced with this (horrifying) situation," Mr. Paul recalled.

"I have had to deliver babies on board; I've had people come on board and die on aircraft, but this was a new dimension to the whole career.

"There was another small aircraft that a
pilot, Tommy Fernandes had. His aircraft had a bullet in the engine but it hadn't hit any of the vital parts.

"We were told by the company (GAC) that we had to come out on Mr. Fernandes' aircraft.

"We had space for one person, and we brought out a woman who was shot in the back. I poured some rum into another container to rub on her back during the flight, because her back was swelling up."

Eventually, they arrived at Timehri Airport, and were taken to the residence of President Forbes Burnham.
The US Ambassador to Guyana and several top Government officials were present as they were debriefed. They were then taken to CID Headquarters to give further statements.

"I did not get home till around midnight. When I got home my wife and sisters in the US had heard (of the killings) and they wanted to know if everything was okay and I said yes."

A few days later, he was sent to fly over Jonestown.

"Many years ago we had the Public Works Department, and they would have a dump where they would put all the (old) trucks and tractors, and I thought that it was a dump for the vehicles. It was only when we went very low that I realised that there were bodies.

"I felt disbelief. I couldn't believe that humans could do that to humans."

"At the time, everyone was telling me to leave Guyana, but my Chief Pilot said to me, ‘If you want to continue in your aviation career, the thing to do is to continue flying.

"At first I had said that these guys don't have a heart, after what I went through on Saturday, putting me to fly on Monday’, but that was the best thing that happened, or I could have gone into the whole realm of disbelief."

Indeed he continued flying for 21 more years, eventually retiring in 1999 when the GAC folded.

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