Captain Solomon Mengestu was an Ethiopian pilot with Ethiopian Airlines who was captured and imprisoned in Somalia, Mogadishu during the Ethio- Somalia war, also known as the Ogaden War in 1977-78. While flying to Kebri Dehar as an assistant pilot for General Alemayehu Woldesenbet, Solomon found himself in the midst of a war. The crew had no military training and information. With nearly 15 people on board, their airplane was hit by Somali army with anti-aircraft. While most of the airplane was out of function, Solomon and his colleagues made an emergency landing in Kebri Dehar airport, saving everyone on the plane.
Solomon and everyone on board was badly wounded, hit by the fractions of the anti-aircraft.
He then was captured with other Ethiopians by Somalia military and imprisoned for 11 years in Mogadishu prison.
Solomon was born and raised in the eastern city of Harar, Ethiopia.
He joined the Ethiopian airlines as a trainee pilot nine years prior to his capture by the Somali National Army.
Somalia’s invasion on Ethiopia in July 13, 1977 was over the disputed region of Ogaden. Somali National Army, led by President Said Barre, invaded Ethiopia, with a vision of creating the ‘Great Somalia”. Siad Barre commanded his troops deep in Ethiopian territory, threatening the western Ethiopian city, Dire Dewa, just 447 Kilo Meters from the capital Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian military government Derg, led by Mengestu Haile Mariam responded quickly with the support of the governments of Soviet Union and Cuba.
The war ended in March 1978 by Ethiopian victory over the Somalia troops.
In August 15, 1977, Captain Solomon flew to Dire Dewa as an assistant pilot for General Alemayehu Weledesenbet. However, in Dire Dewa, the crew was told to return to head back to Addis Ababa, and then to fly to the border city of Kebri Dehar with their DC3, Alpha Alpha Papa (APP) small airplane. The assignment was to collect Ethiopian troops who were wounded during the war. They were also carrying a bomb to deliver to the Ethiopian military. When reaching Kebri Dehar, which was under the Ethiopian military control, their plane was hit by anti-aircraft. They had to have an emergency landing in Kebri Dehar airport. However their landing was a scuffle, since most of the parts of the airplane was hit and not functioning. The safe landing of the plane by Captain Solomon and General Almayehu is considered one of the most heroic stories in the Ethiopian aviation history. Solomon was badly wounded.
Regardless of their safe landing, Kebri Dehar was a war zone. While Solomon is still badly wounded and unable to move, he witnessed the entire Ethiopian base bombed and Kebri Dehar fail under the control of Somalia army. Many of the people at the base was hit, and Solomon, with his wounds had to run for his life with a few people who were at the base. He did not know where he was going, or which direction is safe. Their escape was cut short when the Somalia military caught up with them.
Solomon with other Ethiopians was taken to Mogadishu prison, where he spend the next eleven years of his life. On their way in to Ethiopia, Somali military captured tens of thousands of Ethiopians including women, children and elderly. Solomon joined a prison, with many Ethiopians.
Their time in prison was disturbing. Civilian Ethiopians were mistreated and abused by the Somali military. The military was frustrated because they lost the war with Ethiopia. Solomon was imprisoned in what he says the smallest room anyone could ever imagine. For the man who was flying all over the world, was difficult to be confined in a prison and a room that wasn’t big enough to stretch legs. Solomon was a civil pilot, caught up in a war. However, he and many other civilians were treated even worse than a military captured in a war.
Solomon, survived 11 years of prison in Mogadishu with hope and reading.
Solomon and many other Ethiopians were released after an intense negotiations between Ethiopia and Somalia. The negotiation was led by Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Including Solomon, 3,500 Ethiopian returned to their country in 1988.
Up on his return, Solomon joined Ethiopian Airlines again. He joined pilot training program again and started flying for the airlines. He served the airlines for nearly 30 years before retiring.
Solomon is married and has two kids. Solomon is now retired and lives in Addis Ababa, with his family.