Late Sqn Ldr Larkai (Rtd)
Late Sqn Ldr Larkai (Rtd)
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Danny-Boy’s final solo flight of no return!

“Sony Liston” was the most popular of the many nicknames Sqn Ldr Reginald Daniel Lartei Larkai (Rtd) had in school.

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Until he was dethroned in 1964 by the 24-year-old Cassius Clay, later Mohammad Ali, World Heavyweight boxing champion Sony Liston was the most fearsome boxer of his time in the early 1960s. 

For Sqn Ldr Larkai to be called Sony Liston attested to his strength and boxing prowess. On Friday, June 21, 2024, “Danny-Boy”, as the late pilot of the Ghana Air Force was known in the Ghana Armed Forces, was laid to rest at the Military Cemetery, Burma Camp.

This was preceded by a Burial Service at the Garrison Methodist-Presbyterian Church, Burma Camp, which was attended by the top brass of the GAF led by the CDS. Also present were retired officers of GAF, who were there in their numbers, as well as ex-Airmen, Defence Civilian Staff, Family and Friends and mourners from all walks of life.

Old Boys of his alma mater, Mfantsipim School, were there in their numbers. Also represented was the Staff of Ashanti Goldfields, where “Danny-Boy” flew as a pilot on his retirement from GAF.

Profile

A product of Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, “Danny-Boy” completed the General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level (GCE ‘O’ Level) in 1965, thus belonging to the Mfantsipim Old Boys Association (MOBA) 1965.

After Mfantsipim, Danny-Boy went to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) for his Sixth Form, before enlisting in the GAF as an Air Force cadet in 1967 with Regular Career Course Intake 11/Short Service Commission Course 9. He was commissioned in 1969.

As a pilot, Danny-Boy was described as an excellent flyer, hardworking and meticulous. Flying aside, he was an expert in handling all weapons and led the Air Force to win many competitions.

Professionalism

In his tribute to Sqn Ldr Larkai, Wg Cdr Andy Mensah (Rtd) told the story of how Danny-Boy managed to land his Bulldog aircraft, which had developed a technical fault, on a beach close to Winneba while flying to Accra from Takoradi.

In his tribute, a story told by Wg Cdr Kwaku Kekrebesi (Rtd), one of the many pilots Danny-Boy trained is reproduced as follows: “It was our final night of training (in Kumasi). The Training Officer (Sqn Ldr Larkai) asked for the aircraft to be fully fueled, to take care of our journey back to Takoradi the following morning.

That night, we [the trainees] took turns in take-offs and landings, under the supervision of Sqn Ldr Larkai. During one of such take-offs, and without warning, a thunderstorm took over the entire airport and plunged Kumasi into pitch-darkness. Landing back in Kumasi was out of the question.

Sqn Ldr Larkai took over control immediately. We flew dead south and continued climbing. We were not alone. Ghana Airways VC 10 from London to Accra that night told us that Accra Airport was also hit by the thunderstorm and was off the air.

The Skyvan is an unpressurised aircraft and, therefore, not supposed to fly above 8,000 feet. That night, we climbed to 16,000 feet without realising it. The aircraft was also not equipped with weather radar, making it unfit to fly in thunderstorms, by modern standards. We were flying blind!

Happily, not long after 16,000 feet, the weather became manageable. As the weather subsided and normalcy returned, we started our descent, identified the coast and saw Winneba. We diverted to and made a safe landing in Accra.

On reflection, if the Training Officer (Sqn Ldr Larkai) had not asked for the aircraft to be refuelled full-tank, enabling us to remain airborne for the full endurance of the aircraft, and if he had not taken over control flying south, and eventually identifying the coast and Winneba, I will not be standing before you to narrate the story.

I can only say, on behalf of all officers on board the Skyvan that stormy night, our dear Danny-Boy, we owe you eternal gratitude!”

Social Life

Socially, he was the outgoing sanguine-temperament-type who was easily noticed wherever he appeared. Describing Danny-Boy, an Air Commodore in his tribute said, “He was kind and warm-hearted. He lived so much at peace with himself and bore no malice in his heart towards anyone.”

Being the extrovert type, his radiant/confident temperament manifested everywhere, be it socially or professionally. Indeed, he was the life-wire of every social activity he attended with his jokes.

Discussion

Professionally as a pilot, in the Wg Cdr Kekrebesi narration above, Danny-Boy’s leadership ability came into full focus. But for his foresight in ordering the full refuelling of the aircraft the night before, and more importantly, taking over control at a critical time of the sudden thunderstorm, the outcome would have been a disaster for him and his five trainees.

Again, his ability to calm-headedly land his aircraft at a beach near Winneba in an emergency was a remarkable act of a good leader. In the conclusion of their tribute, MOBA 1965 stated, “Danny-Boy, Sony, we shall miss everything about you, especially your humility and down-to-earth character.”

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 After the tribute was read with all Mfantsipim Old Boy surrounding the casket, “Danny-Boy” was seen off with the School Anthem, MHB 832, “For all the saint who from their labours rest….”

How many of our leaders/misleaders, as Prof. PLO Lumumba calls them, can match Danny-Boy’s humility, selflessness and commitment to Ghana? For some of them, humility is a concept from Mars! Arrogance is their forte! With the plethora of scandals almost daily from unthinkable greedy amassing of property, how will they be remembered, if at all?

Sqn Ldr Larkai epitomised the saying “Leaders solve problems, not explain why problems cannot be solved.” He has left behind the legacy of an illustrious career that saw him train the next generation of pilots with humility, integrity and selflessness.

May Danny-Boy’s soul Rest in Peace! Leadership, lead by example! Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!

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The writer is the former CEO of African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya/Council Chair Family Health University College, Accra.  
E-mail: [email protected]

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