A WHITBY oil rig worker has spoken of his terrifying ordeal in Libya which ended with him being airlifted to safety in a dramatic military rescue mission by the SAS.
Rod Wood (56) was reunited with his wife and children on Wednesday after escaping the crisis-hit country which has been plunged into political turmoil after protests began against Colonel Gaddafi last month.
During the unrest, Libyan troops blasted government protesters with machine gun fire, leaving scores of people dead and there have been reports of rebels taking control of oil rigs at gunpoint in other parts of the stricken country.
Mr Wood, who has worked in Libya for 27 years, was supposed to have returned home last week after a shift on a remote oil rig compound – the size of Wales – in the desert where he works as a superintendent for KCA Deutag.
He and his 80 colleagues, most of whom were from other countries, were following the news and internet as tensions mounted.
The rig was placed on red alert and then they were ordered a week ago last Monday to evacuate by their head office in Tripoli, Libya’s second largest city.
Phone networks and the internet were down and the only access to the outside world was via satellite phone enabling Mr Wood to be in regular contact with his worried wife Joanne (46) and children Rachel (21) and Tom (14).
Many of his fellow workers fled the rig in vehicles leaving him and around 15 others behind. Two days later, Mr Wood took charge and led the remaining workers in a convoy of vehicles, avoiding any roads and driving without their lights being guided by the moonlight, incase they got ambushed to a neighbouring rig before heading to the town of Zella the next day.
“On the way we came across a checkpoint,” he said. “There were a lot of Army guys and they were all holding AK47’s.
“We all had to get out and they were checking everything and anything including our bags.
“There was one guy stood there with a machete swinging it across his hand as people were being told to do this and that.
“When they were satisfied we hadn’t got anything of much use to they let us on our way.
“The biggest fear we had was not knowing where the mercenaries were. They didn’t care who we were and were sent in to do a job and create havoc. Some of our lads elsewhere in Libya had been shot at with machine guns but luckily no one was injured.”
When the group arrived in Zella they were put in a safe house with around 80 other people by the Libyan Army and were in regular contact with the foreign office and their company’s headquarters in Aberdeen.
Their only line of communication was pay as you go mobile on a Maltese network and they used 500 euros to keep it alive in just a few days.
“We heard gunshots and hollering in the safe house,” he said. “I saw other people collapsing around me but it just made me stronger. I knew I couldn’t afford to.”
Mr Wood received a call from the Special Forces on Sunday saying they planned to bring in a plane to rescue the remaining workers from a nearby airstrip later that afternoon.
He made sure everyone made it safely to the airstrip and it was there they watched the Hercules transporter touch down.
“It felt like one of the best things you could have seen,” he said. “This great big lump of a plane coming in.
“I felt relived. We knew we were running out of time.
“ Everyone was jumping up and down.”
“We were the last group of British people and the SAS were asking if we knew of anybody else anywhere. The SAS were fully armed and all jumped down from the plane in twos like something out of a film.”
Mr Wood along with three other Brits and fellow workers were airlifted to Malta where they were put up in hotels, with him making sure everyone was dealt with first, before being flown back to the UK.
He arrived back in Whitby on Wednesday where he was greeted at York Railway Station by his family.
“It was like a bad dream,” he added. “But I would go back to Libya. It’s not the Libyan people. I know a lot of Libyan people and it’s sad what’s happening to their world.
“When I arrived at the station my family pounced on me.”
Mr Wood’s wife Joanne told the Whitby Gazette she felt very proud of her husband.
“I knew that’s what he would be doing, looking after everyone else first,” she said. “We would like to thank all our family and friends for their kind messages.”