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Lillemor - Kew Gardens NY

ONA Bangladesh and Pakistan operations

The greatest air rescue mission in human history
ONAīs role in the rescue of about 40,000 Bangladesh 
and Pakistani nationals who had been stranded in 
each otherīs countries during the 1971 war.

Written by John Ward Gerber, VP,
Robert Marston and Associates, Inc., Public Relations, based on an interview with ONA Flight Attendant Lillemor Ostlund Garsten.
Before publishing the article was sent to Winston Defieux of Overseas National Airways, Jamaica, New York, as well as to Lillemor, for approval. The story was then published at UPI. This is the story of the greatest air rescue mission in human history. The objects of the rescue were about 40,000 Bangladesh and Pakistani nationals who had been stranded in each otherīs countries during the 1971 war. It was not until August 1973 that India and Pakistan signed an agreement making repatriation possible. The following February, repatriation finally got under way, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Meantime, the refugees had been living in shack camps under minimal conditions on subsistance diets and with a chronic water shortage. The two airlines selected to carry out the repatriation were Overseas National Airways, a leading U.S. charter line, and Aeroflot, the Soviet airline.
ONA DC-8-55F Contender at Travis AFB
At the end of the missions, during which ONA ferried 10,000 people in each direction, they received a letter from Francois Cochet, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees representative in Karachi. He said in part: -The most admirable people among your crews are your stewardesses. They have shown with a constant smile, consideration towards thousands of poor persons who were flying for the first time in their lives. Destitute and miserable, these people will forever remember the sincerity and sympathy of the ONA crew members.

Lillemor and Rose-Marie Neuber in Beirut

This is the story, as seen through the eyes of 
Lillemor Ostlund, an Overseas National Airways
stewardess who flew about twelve round-trip 
missions between Dacca, Bangladesh, and 
The missions were flown in two periods, 
February 2 to 18 and February 26 to March 14. 
The stretch DC-8 worked round the clock 
under three rotating crews and carried 250 
people on each four-hour run.

- They came aboard, miss Ostlund recalls, 
- wearing, literally, rags and no shoes. 
All they owned was in a bucket or a little bundle 
on the end of a walking stick. Most of them were 
in families of up to eight people and a woman 
might have two or three babies and infants 
concealed in the folds of her rags.

- There was one woman I remember who we learned 
was a widow. She had at least four children with 
her. Her teeth were gone and her face was 
wrinkled. She looked at least sixty but we 
learned she was only 28.

- They had managed to keep their pride. Their 
rags were as clean and neat as they could 
make them. The women wore nose and ear rings, 
and bangle bracelets. The children were very 
quiet. The older peopole were simply resigned, 
feeling, we were told, that things would be 
better in the next life. Yes, their religion 
sustained them.

- They chewed betel nut, which was hard to get 
used to, and they coughed a lot. 
I donīt think they really knew what was going on.

- Of course none of them had ever been in an 
airplane before. When they came aboard all eight 
members of a family would try to get into one 
three-seat row. We had to separate them of 
course because there wouldnīt be enough oxygen 
masks to go around. Then we had to fasten their 
seat belts.
- A member of the ground crew gave them their 
instructions and that was the last verbal 
communication with them for the four-hour 
duration of the flight. 

Of course communicating with children was easy 
-- it always is. You smile and they smile back. 
For the adults, we made out with sign language.

ONA DC-8 N1976 Spain 1975

Lillemor and navigator Stringfellow

-There was so little, really, that we could 
do for them. We served them a box lunch 
containing hard boiled eggs, a piece of 
cake and a piece of fruit. Most of it 
disappeared into their rags -- it probably 
amounted to two days rations. Cold water 
was their favorite drink -- they had so
 little water, and none of it cold. They 
didnīt know what to make of the little 
salt and pepper container, so a lot of 
them simply dumped the contents into the 
water and drank it.
They loved sugar -- it was so scarce -- 
and we always used up all we had aboard.
They liked it dissolved in hot water. 
On one flight, I remember, there was a 
little boy whimpering, so I made him a 
rattle out of a film can with a safety 
pin inside it. 

I think it frightened him -- he had never 
seen a rattle. But his mother was grateful. 
The safety pin was terribly valuable.

- On the second series of missons, knowing 
better what to expect, I brought along 
plenty of chewing gum for the children. 
That helped.

Miss Ostlund volunteered for the second 
series of missions. Would she do it again?
- Of course. You never really believe the 
pictures of starving children, but there 
it was and it was a challenge. It teaches 
you how good you really have it.

Iīd do it again any time, and I think 
about it whenever I get to feeling sorry 
for myself.

She commented on the contrast with her 
regular runs to Paris, London, Rome, 
Copenhagen, Malaga and other American 
holiday capitals, when both the airplane 
and the stewardesses must be prepared for 
every passenger complaint and convenience 
from aspirin to blankets.
- The refugees were infinitely less 
trouble, she said.
- They were so terribly grateful, and, she 
added firmly, - there were no smart remarks.

U.N. Pakistan Refugee Program - 1974 - Rick Skala, Ted Sekola & Keith Latham accepting U.N. Commendation