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The President’s Plane Breaks Down

Kigali, Rwanda–One hour  on the way to Rwanda on the “Flying Palace,” as we call our plane, we made a wide turn and headed back to Addis Ababa.

“The President’s aircraft had to abort take-off after an engine malfunctioned,” a staffer told us. “We’re going back to pick him up.”

Read more in the extended entry.


President Clinton’s Boeing 767 was on loan from Google.

Photo by David Braun/NGS

Cabin crew scurried about tidying the aircraft, and the larger, more private, compartments were prepared for the Clinton family and some members of his delegation.

We were told that journalists were to stay on the plane because the President wanted to spend some time with us.

The rest of the passengers on the stranded aircraft were relocated to a hastily leased airliner operated by the Ethiopian airline.

The rules of the flight with the President were that it was off the record. No photos and no reporting what was discussed. However, I can’t resist saying that, as he walked through the aircraft, Clinton spotted “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” a book by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Jared Diamond.


Remarking what an interesting book it was, he sat down with us and used it as the basis of an interesting conversation.

The mechanical trouble of the presidential aircraft cost us another half day. The afternoon program in Rwanda was rescheduled for the next morning, forcing the cancellation of a planned visit to a coffee farm. Instead, coffee farmers were invited to meet us in our hotel after we arrived. Clinton has been promoting Rwanda’s coffee farmers and their efforts to set up a viable agribusiness that would earn them a greater share of the global profits made in coffee trading.

We all tried the Rwandan farmers’ coffee, and then the press had a private dinner with the President — off the record. The conversation spanned world events.