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Diplomats seek release of vintage rally flyers stranded in Ethiopia

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Britain and other nations negotiating on behalf of 40 people, including the colourful aviator Maurice Kirk, grounded in Gambella

Diplomats for the UK, Ireland and the US are working 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.

Not so happily, the party did not receive the warmest of welcomes. A statement from the VAR organisers said: “The Ethiopian authorities have elected to allocate accommodation at the airport rather than permit them to proceed to their pre-booked hotel. The reasons for this, at this time, are not 100% clear.

“There is no possibility to communicate with them but all participants, including Maurice Kirk, are safe and accounted for. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is aware, is talking with other embassies, and is negotiating on their behalf. We have no further information because of the lack of communications. More information to follow when available.”