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Retired pilot called up to fly 32 tonnes of face masks across the world

PUBLISHED: 11:44 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:44 06 April 2020

Captain Colman's cargo plane being filled with 32 tonnes of face masks from Hong Kong. Photo: Steve Colman

Captain Colman's cargo plane being filled with 32 tonnes of face masks from Hong Kong. Photo: Steve Colman

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A Norfolk pilot has been called out of retirement to fly 32 tonnes of protective face masks across the world.

Captain Colman's cargo plane being filled with 32 tonnes of face masks from Hong Kong. Photo: Steve ColmanCaptain Colman's cargo plane being filled with 32 tonnes of face masks from Hong Kong. Photo: Steve Colman

Steve Colman, a 64-year-old retired commercial cargo pilot from Great Yarmouth, was called up by his former employer Air China Cargo to fly protective equipment from Hong Kong to Europe to help with the coronavirus response in the worst affected areas.

His first trip was from Hong Kong to Barcelona, in Spain, and then to Rome in Italy - the two nations suffering with some of the highest global death tolls related to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Other trips have since been made to the UK, which is now making its own pleas for more PPE to help frontline staff.

He said: “I’ve been a pilot for 42 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before - it really is a worldwide emergency.

“I did not expect to be called up out of retirement to be delivering 32 tonnes of face masks and testing kits from one side of the world to the other.

Captain Colman alongside his former employer, Air China Cargo. Photo: Steve ColmanCaptain Colman alongside his former employer, Air China Cargo. Photo: Steve Colman

“In fact, I was so confident that I even grew a beard - and how many pilots have you seen with beards?”

Although passenger flights are subject to travel restrictions imposed by the government, cargo flights are exempt so that vital supplies, such as protective equipment, continue to reach their destination.

Mr Colman said: “There was three of us on the flight to Hong Kong and it was a very strange experience.

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“We weren’t allowed to get off the flight until we were wearing protective face masks. The staff there were very strict about it.”

Mr Colman said that while he was surprised to be transporting such a high volume of masks, they were not too out-the-ordinary compared to other cargo he has flown.

He said: “Once I had to transport live sharks. Another was horses for a Dubai Sheikh.”

Born and bred in Norfolk, Mr Colman said he was proud to be doing his bit for medical teams in the fight against coronavirus.

He said: “We have a long history of service in our family. My father was a policeman and my grandfather a fireman.”


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