News & Views
Voices of the Crowd #13 – Sam Psyk10 May 2022
The Secret History of Flight 149 tells one of those stories that makes you go “wait, what?” It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie; a plane full of holidaymakers leaves London Heathrow in August 1990, stops to refuel in Kuwait just as the Iraqi army is invading, and the passengers and crew all get taken hostage by Saddam Hussein. They are then used as human shields – put in the line of fire to deter western forces from attacking Iraq.
When you start to dig a little deeper, things get murky. Who were the mysterious group of men who boarded the plane at the very last minute? Why was Flight 149 the only one to land in Kuwait when all others were diverted?
At the heart of this complex story are the people who lived through the experience. People who suffered terrible trauma and who have been denied justice.
Through a series of intimate conversations with Stephen Davis – a journalist who has been reporting on this story for thirty-one years – the human shields open up about their terrible ordeal. These were tough interviews. We were acutely aware that we were asking people to relive traumatic events. But thanks to the trust Stephen has developed with the victims through his tireless search for the truth, and to the bravery of the human shields themselves, we were able to hear some unbelievably powerful testimonies. I can admit that I’ve shed more than a few tears while producing this series.
There are many moments that stand out. Hearing Barry describe saying goodbye to his partner Anthony, not knowing if he would ever see him again. Listening to Clive describe how he was so hungry he was forced to eat a giraffe leg from the local zoo. Hearing Jennifer – who was just 12 at the time – describe how the experience has left her with three decades of mental health struggles.
It’s through these personal stories that the true horror of this event is illuminated. Yes, there is a political context to it all, and yes there are historical facts to weave in. But at the end of the day, it’s stories that we connect with.
Stephen and I – and the whole team at Crowd Network – were determined to do these stories justice, and to give them a platform to be heard by the widest possible audience. Judging by the reaction from listeners, it’s clear that the human shields’ suffering, and their bravery in coming forward, has resonated with many, many people.
We can debate why Flight 149 landed, and who knew what when – and this debate will continue (some of the human shields are seeking legal advice on this as we speak). But what is undeniable is that it did happen, and people’s lives were ruined. In the words of Jennifer: “I was a bright, happy child, there’s no reason at all I shouldn’t have gone on to have a successful career, university the lot. But no. Completely derailed by Kuwait. Completely.”