Better Late Than Never? Clinton Trip to Africa a Testing Experience
NEWARK, N.J. -- Former president Bill Clinton headed out on Monday night for what was supposed to be an impressive and public re-emergence following the Democratic primaries, leading a band of reporters and a delegation of supporters to Africa to tour the work accomplished by his foundation.
But there was a glitch: the back-up 727 carrying the press and some members of his own traveling party had an equipment malfunction on Monday night. And then again in mid-air early Tuesday. And then again on Tuesday night.
As of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday -- 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, where the former president was about to start his day -- the press contingent was still stuck at an air terminal in Newark, more than 24 hours after the scheduled departure time. No fewer than six technical problems had arisen, including: a shattered window, a broken air conditioning valve, an electrical fire, a problematic oxygen valve and a fussy fuel part.
Some of the more prominent guests, such as Terry McAuliffe, Ted Dansen and Mary Steenburgen, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, had been lucky enough to ride with Clinton on his 767 aircraft. Others -- including former Transportation secretary Rodney Slater, a documentary crew and this reporter -- were left behind at Hangar 15.
As the second full day of delays set in, normally unfazed Clinton advisers were frantically scouring the planet for an alternate aircraft that could make the trip to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia and Senegal -- no easy task at the last minute, it turns out -- and the allure of a global trot with Clinton had begun to fade for some, prompting some guests (including Slater) to give up and go home. The Clinton office warned that a departure before sometime Wednesday was unlikely.
Some of the dwindling handful of reporters, meanwhile, began looking up commercial flights online (a connecting flight in Khartoum, anyone?) and marveling at what could be dubbed "The Amazing Race: The Clinton episode."
"What was the movie -- 'Alive?' -- when they all crashed and ate each other?" quipped one veteran ABC producer.
Web Politics Editor
July 29, 2008; 10:54 PM ET
Categories: On the Plane
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