Gambella, November 26, 2016 (GMN) - Nearly 60 people taking part in a vintage air rally from Europe to South Africa were released on Thursday after being detained by authorities in Ethiopia, organisers of the journey said.
Pilots of a dozen biplanes and their teams were allowed to leave the airport in Gambella, two days after arriving at the outpost in western Ethiopia, close to the border with South Sudan.
"They have been released. We hope to leave Ethiopia.
"They have a hotel because they cannot fly when it's dark. So they have to wait, so they should leave at first light tomorrow," a spokesman for organisers Vintage Air Rally told AFP.
The reason for their detention at the airport was unclear and the organisers were not expected to give more detail before the planes were air-bound and out of the country.
The teams included participants from France, Germany, the US and Britain, whose foreign ministry said it had been involved in the Gambella incident.
"We are providing assistance to a group of British nationals in Ethiopia who are taking part in the Vintage Air Rally. We will remain in contact with the local authorities," a spokeswoman for the UK's foreign ministry told AFP.
European diplomats were asking release of pilots detained in Ethiopia while flying over the country, apparently without permit. Diplomats from UK, Ireland and the US worked to secure the release of a group of pilots, including a maverick British aviator, grounded by Ethiopian authorities during an attempt to fly the length of Africa in vintage planes.
Maurice Kirk, the British former drinking friend of the late actor Oliver Reed, who was once arrested for landing at George W Bush’s Texas ranch, is among those stranded in Ethiopia.
A retired vet, Kirk, 71, had caused alarm when he and his 1943 Piper Cub plane disappeared earlier this week near the border of Sudan and Ethiopia, prompting a search-and-rescue operation.
Happily, he and the rest of those taking part in the Vintage Air Rally (VAR) – about 40 people in all – managed to touch down safely in Gambella, Ethiopia.