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Flyer Captured in Angola Recounts Jungle Survival

March 21, 1985

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A cargo plane crew member held prisoner by rebels in Angola for 21/2 months says his jungle captivity included 17-hour marches and a diet of worms.

Alan Bongard, 56, Pleasanton, a flight engineer for Oakland-based Transamerica Airlines, met relatives at a tearful airport reunion Wednesday and then discussed his survival with reporters.

″The food was atrocious,″ he said, adding that much of the diet consisted of rice ″with worms,″ a meal he refused to eat during his first six days as a prisoner.

″I lost my glasses after the first six days and then I ate it,″ he said as his wife, Faye, sat by his side.

Bongard was taken captive Dec. 29 when his plane ran into rebel gunfire while landing at Cafunfo, a mining town in northeastern Angola. Co-pilot William Reed of Chico was killed and Bongard, Capt. Gerhart Opel and cargo supervisor Paul Huggins were taken prisoner.

″Fire, smoke, and sprewing sparks″ appeared in the C-130 Hercules as it landed, said Bongard, who reached safety Saturday in South Africa, where he was met by his wife.

″I hit the ground running,″ said Bongard who suffered a nose bleed from the concussion caused by mortar shells that landed nearby.

He said he looked up and saw ″30 or 40″ soldiers firing automatic weapons. The captives were marched through the jungle for ″35 days before we were met by trucks.″

Despite the hardship, he said he was treated with kindness by the rebel guerrillas, members of Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, UNITA for short.

″One officer used to call me an American grandpa,″ said Bongard. ″They basically want what we wanted in this country a few years ago - freedom.″

Bongard denied earlier news reports that he felt he was ″set up″ for the attack.

″I was misquoted,″ he said.

″There was no way anyone could know what was going on in Cafunfo,″ he said. ″There were no telephones, no telegraphs.″

The pilots union has claimed the airlines knew before the attack that its planes could become targets for rebel forces.

″Negative, no,″ Bongard replied when asked about the union charges. He described the gunfire as a ″shock.″

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