‘I saw gunshots on the streets of Tripoli’

Smiles of relief from Tim Riley, back home from Libya
Smiles of relief from Tim Riley, back home from Libya

SCENES of gunshots faced Tim Riley as he tried to escape the chaos in Libya’s capital city.

Tim, 46, of Stockton Road, Hartlepool, watched as pro-Government convoys toured the streets of Tripoli firing their weapons to keep people indoors.

Tim's wife Helen with daughter Lily Riley

Tim's wife Helen with daughter Lily Riley

Days later, he saw Libya’s main airport turn into a frantic mass as thousands of foreigners tried to flee the country.

And to top it all, the plane taking him to safety was struck by lightning.

Now he’s home and admitted: “It is a sheer relief to be here.”

Tim worked for the Libyan oil firm Zueitina for 18 months as a non-destructive testing inspector - testing vessels and pipelines.

He was one day away from flying 800 miles to a new permanent post in the Libyan desert when his job joy turned to despair and civil unrest broke out.

He found himself trapped in a Tripoli guest house for three days, in a room overlooking parts of the capital where protesters were under fire from President Muammar Gadaffi’s supporters.

“I could see the tracer fire overhead,” he said.

“We saw the Army travelling round in six or eight-gun convoys and firing off volleys in the air, to warn people to stay inside.”

He recalled: “We had to live off tins of tuna with bread for three days inside the guest house.”

Eventually, he and fellow workers reached the British Embassy, where officials told him to get to Tripoli International Airport as soon as possible.

A mini-bus risked a hair-raising, back-streets journey to the airport where there were “scenes of chaos”, said Tim. “There were crowds 100 deep.”

He waited for 11 hours outside with hailstones and rain beating down. “We had water and a few bags of Doritos between 120 of us, and one man had mild hypothermia” he said.

But worse was to follow.

During the night, fed-up Libyan officials turned on around 10,000 Egyptians waiting for flights home and fired shots at them.

He said: “There were people put on ambulances. That was the part of it all where I got scared.

“It was the unknown. When something like happens, when people are charging up the road.”

Back home, his long-term partner Helen Edwardes, 40, Helen’s daughter Holly Edwardes, 15, and the couple’s daughter Lily Riley, aged three, waited anxiously for news.

After 30 hours at the airport, he eventually boarded a 757 jet for Malta but even then his drama was not over.

He said: “I had never seen Malta before and I looked out the window. We went through a thunder cloud and the plane was struck by lightning.”

He eventually managed to ring Helen from Malta. News of his safety brought floods of tears.

“She had just arrived at work at TMJ Solicitors in Hartlepool and she was in tears shouting ‘he’s safe and he is in Malta’,” Tim recalled.

After having his first warm meal in days, he flew back to Britain. A final journey from London on a Grand Central train saw him greeted by his family on the platform at Hartlepool railway station last Friday.

He said: “Helen and the kids were there and it was emotional.”

Tim’s ordeal meant he missed being able to call home in time for Holly’s birthday on Wednesday last week.

But he did make it to Hartlepool in time for Helen’s 40th birthday last Saturday.