I’ve always wondered about the exact path of that Olympic torch and whether it actually stays lit the entire time. I mean, this Olympic season, we’re talking about an Athens to London trip! Well, YES, it does stay lit—LIT EVEN ON AN AIRPLANE! Here’s the lowdown….
Last week, the flame was lit by the sun’s rays (using a parabolic mirror!) by an actress dressed as an ancient Greek high priestess. She gave the torch to a relay team, which proceeded to carry the flame around Greece. Then, yesterday, at 4:00 p.m., at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens (site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896), the flame was carried into the stadium by Greek rowing champion Christina Giazitzidou. She then passed it to Greek weightlifter Pyrros Dimas and Chinese gymnast Li Nig (who lit the flame at the 2008 Beijing Games). They gave the flame to president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos, and he handed it to Princess Anne (a former Olympic equestrian and member the International Olympic Committee). The princess was accompanied by a British Olympic delegation that included David Beckham, Boris Johnson, and Sebastian Coe.
Once the Brits had possession of the torch, it was kept overnight in four different lanterns at the Britich Embassy in Athens. Now, today, the flame was boarded on a gold-colored Firefly plane (special British Airways Flight 2012) at Athens International Airport and will get flown 1,500 miles to the British Royal Navy Base in Culdrose, near Land’s End in Cornwall, by pilot Capt. David Thomas. The four lanterns will sit in two specially-made metal cradles and get strapped (with both a seatbelt and a Velcro strap) into seats 1A and 1B. On a normal flight, these seats hold business class passengers!
Although Capt. Thomas has ferried the queen and prime ministers on numerous occasions, he admitted to feeling pressure transporting this particular precious cargo. He told BBC, “You try to forget about a lot of the external pressure as it's not helpful, when you're flying passengers you are thinking about safety.”
"I've been in that position before, you don't want to get it wrong. But I have got a couple of great guys with me. [The “great guys” are two pilots, a captain and a first officer, selected by Thomas.]
"The worst thing for me is I know how good the [TV] cameras are, so I'll have to watch what I'm doing at all times."
And he added, “It’s slightly unusual to be playing with fire on an airplane.”
Obviously, lit flames are normally forbidden on flights, but the UK Civil Aviation Authority approved a special safety plan created by Capt. Thomas and British Airway’s “Dangerous Goods” team. Sitting next to the flame lanterns in Seats 1 A and B, will be a fire warden (a Metro police officer trained in firefighting) in Seat 1C. Capt. Thomas and his crew did fly one earlier test run using one lantern—though it was unlit. But they tested the Velcro and seatbelt methods of keeping the lantern secure.
After the flame arrives in the UK, its journey really begins! During the course of the next upcoming 70 days, it will travel 8,000 miles by a relay team around Britain, finishing in London on July 27, the day the Olympics begin!
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