Wing Commander Ken Hannah, who has died aged 85, led a daring operation by three RAF Hercules transport aircraft into Dacca during an armed revolt in East Pakistan, rescuing more than 400 people.
Conflict had broken out in March 1971 when West Pakistan attempted to crush separatists in East Pakistan, who had the support of India. Nine months later the West Pakistani forces in the East surrendered to the Indian Army and the separatists, leading to the creation of the independent Bangladesh.
When West Pakistan was close to defeat, a short truce was called to allow refugees to be rescued, and on December 12, Hannah — who was CO of No 47 Squadron, based with three Hercules aircraft at Calcutta — arrived over Dacca.
For an hour he circled the airfield, waiting for debris to be removed from the runway, which was also pitted with bomb craters. Finally he decided that a landing was feasible, and ordered the other two aircraft to follow him in if he was successful.
The three Hercules landed safely and picked up the waiting civilians. With no time to make detailed calculations, Hannah had to estimate the runway length required for the heavily laden aircraft, and briefed his fellow pilots accordingly .
Having arrived back at Calcutta, Hannah learned that there were more civilians still stranded at Dacca. With only a few hours of the truce remaining, he immediately returned alone to evacuate them. He took off from Dacca within minutes of the end of the truce.
He was awarded an immediate AFC, and the other two pilots received a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. The citations paid tribute to their “complete disregard of the risks they were taking, their courage and skill, coupled with the exemplary planning and cool assessment of the situation by Wg Cdr Hannah”. They had rescued 436 civilians of 22 different nationalities.
Kenneth Ernest James Hannah was born in Clapham, south-west London, on August 16 1926 and educated at St Dunstan’s College. As soon as he was 18 he joined the RAF, but the Second World War ended before he had completed pilot training.
In 1946 he joined No 10 Squadron, flying Dakota transport aircraft in north-west India. Following the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, Hannah returned to Britain .
He flew Dakota transport aircraft into Berlin during the blockade of the city before serving in Aden. In early 1952 he trained as a flying instructor on jet aircraft, then spent two years at an advanced flying school in Yorkshire.
After attending Staff College, Hannah joined the Queen’s Flight in January 1958 and was appointed the Duke of Edinburgh’s personal pilot. The Flight had recently been re-equipped with the Heron aircraft, one of which was modified with dual controls to allow the Duke to pilot the aircraft from the captain’s position, with Hannah occupying the second pilot’s seat. The aircraft was used on many of the Duke’s overseas visits, including flights to India, Nepal and to the Far East.
On leaving the Flight in April 1961, Hannah was appointed MVO (4th Class).
After service in the Persian Gulf, in 1970 he took command of No 47 Squadron, based initially at Fairford, before moving to form part of the Lyneham Hercules Wing. He retired from the RAF in 1976.
Hannah became a training officer with the Civil Service, for many years overseeing the work of the Jobcentres at Corsham and Devizes. On retiring at 65, he spent 10 years as a volunteer ambulance driver, and often had to turn out in the night to transfer patients to specialist hospitals. He was an accomplished landscape photographer.
Ken Hannah married, in 1956, Elizabeth Marks, who survives him with their two sons and one daughter.
Wing Commander Ken Hannah, born August 16 1926, died November 13 2011
First published in the Daily Telegraph