Swedish television and Jens Lind has decided to produce a documentary about Onni Niskanen.
Next week are we going to Dominica to interview and film Daniel Rundström when he talks about his life in Ethiopia.

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The Adventurer # 4

(Interview with Daniel)

The next day, Mr Griffith helped us retrieve the plane. Or rather, he took with him 15 – 20 men with machetes and they helped by cutting away shrubs and bushes to make a runway. Fortunately, there were no tress in the way, only shrubs. Since I was the most experienced pilot, I flew the plane from there to the airport in Marsabit. In the evening, we had a great party!

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(Onni’s story)

In the evening, when we walked over to the building where we should sleep, we had not walked more than ten metres from the main building, when we stopped dead in our steps by a lion’s roar. We could only see a pair of eyes, reflecting the light from the building. The Police Commissioner came running out with a rifle and a lamp, but the lion luckily retreated. The following night, we walked straight into three buffalos that were standing right outside the door. Even that time, we got away scot-free. The biggest problem for the Police Commissioner was the elephants, who roamed around in the area, destroying the small garden that he had struggled to keep alive in the drought.

It was with deep regret that we left the nice family a few days later. Our next destination was Nairobi and we arrived there without trouble. Well there, we could read in the East African Standard that we had been missing and that searches for us had been on. We now had to tell the whole story to the press and the next day, there were flaming headlines on the front page about our rescue and our adventures.
Mary, who was waiting at the beach hotel in Nyale Beach by the Indian Ocean, did not know anything about what had happened to us until she read about the adventure in the papers.

(Interview with Daniel)

This trip to Kenya was great, the highlight of my life. We flew on towards Isiolo and then we landed in Nanyuki on the Equator. We stood there in the bar and toasted from the southern part of the globe to the northern part. The Equator ran straight through the bar there. We flew past Mount Kenya and it was very beautiful.

Then we arrived in Nairobi. De wrote in the newspapers about the plane that had disappeared. They were of course glad we had got back. We stayed a few days in Nairobi. We stayed in hotel “New Stanley”. It was a one of those “with-it” hotels in Nairobi. All white farmers went there but the coloured people were not allowed in. No, that is how it was during that time, not like in Ethiopia where everyone could come and go everywhere as they liked.

Well, about the luggage, we had dinner jackets with us. We know that it was still an English colony, so in all hotels, if you wanted to go for dinner, you had to wear dinner jacket. So we had brought that. White dinner jackets.

We also went to a night club, I think it was called “Equator”. To be allowed in, you had to have been to a certain number of countries. Yes, it was rather fun. I remember that the band played “Tequila”- it was a new, popular tune at the time.

I was rather fit at that time. Lasse and I used to do handstands on the bar counter, both of us at the same time. The one who first fell had to pay. He was better than I was. I only won once. I was taller than he was so I could reach to put my feet against the ceiling. That was the only time I won.

After that, we continued to Mombasa and from there on to Malindi. It was only an around 20 minutes’ flight down to the coast. We had already booked us at the “Eden Roc” hotel. They had a private runway for the guests. Mary came down to Malindi together with Pihlkvist, another Swede. That is where we spent our holiday. Mary had flown with Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa via Nairobi and on to Malindi.


This was the only hotel along the coast that had a swimming pool and where you could go for a dip if you wanted to. You did not need a swimming pool, you had the whole sea there! I think it was one of the best hotels. You could also play squash and rent surfing boards, but we spent most of the time on the beach. Yes, we had a great time there! We used to meet at breakfast every morning. Pihlkvist was with us. He was one of those funny guys who always came up with funny expressions. If something tasted nice, he used to say “This does not taste of paraffin!” We were all at the breakfast table, except Pihlkvist, when Mary said “I think this tastes of paraffin… something tastes of paraffin”. We did not think so, but she may have been a bit choosy. After a while, Pihlkvist arrived and sat down at the table, starts eating and say “This does not taste of paraffin!” It was so funny and also to see how funny Mary looked!

We were later invited to a party at Hotel Sindbad. We had to wear dinner jackets. Lasse and I decided to fly in to Mombasa to buy black socks for our dinner jackets, because we did not have any with us. We took the Auster this time because it did not use as much fuel and the L5.

When we landed at the airport in Mombasa, we met some Englishmen from Nairobi. The also had an Auster. When you were in Africa with two private aeroplanes, you started talking to each other of course. We asked where they were going and they said they were flying south to Jadini beach. “We land on the beach there, so why don’t you come down and have lunch with us?” “Yes”, said we, “we just have some shopping to do first. We will be there later. How do we find you?” “You will see us. Just land on the beach”.

We went into town and bought socks and a few other things that we needed and then, just before lunchtime, we took the plane and went to meet with the Englishmen. But as it happened, we did not pay attention. We flew too far inland so we missed them and flew past. After a good while, we realised that we had flown too far. Too right, as I noticed that we had had an incredible following wind. I had not thought about that but you notice it when you make a turn. I thought “oops, we are low on fuel, I have to check this” I did not trust the fuel gauge so we had a dipstick. We were planning to land somewhere there and check with the dipstick to see how much fuel we had left, so we could be certain that it was enough. I landed on the beach but the runway was too short, so the plane tipped on the nose and hit the propeller so a piece of it flew off. It was a wooden propeller. So, what do you do when you are stranded out in the bush? I always had my tools with me. We stood there on the beach, wondering what we had done wrong. We had landed too far up on the beach and the sand was too soft. If I had landed closer to the water, the sand there was packed solid and we would have had as long a runway as we wanted. We could not continue with one long and one short propeller blade. It causes imbalance in the engine. So, what do you do?

Rundis malindi
I will have to cut the other blade too, I thought. Fortunately I had a hacksaw with me so I set out to repair the blade. While we were standing there, some people came towards us. A couple of beautiful girls, actually. Bare-breasted. De were wondering what was going on. We could of course not talk to them but we showed what we were doing. We cut the long blade so that they were the same length and then we pulled the plane down to the water and decided that we could not stay there. We checked how much fuel we had left and decided that it was enough to take us to the Englishmen. We would certainly find them now! We will fly along the coastline by the water and then we will see where they are.

We were not sure that the plane would work, if it would take off. We had a long runway and I cranked up the engine and it shot up to max rpm because the propellers were short. I could only give half throttle power. We bounced along on the beach and so we finally took off. Lasse laughed. “Look! We’re flying!” he said. We flew some distance along the coast but we still did not see the aeroplanes, because they had pulled them in under the palm trees there. We agreed that this had to be it, because we saw tracks and a hotel, so we landed on that beach. I felt that the sand was packed solid and we continued along the beach. Then an Englishman comes walking along the beach. I opened the window. It was one of those hatches that folds outwards and I shouted to him: “Where is Jadini Beach Hotel?” He starred at us and said: “It’s over there, Sir” and walked on.

We finally met up with the nice Englishmen and got our lunch at last. We also got some extra fuel so we could fly back to the hotel in Malindi again.

In the evening we went to the party at “Sindbad”, dressed in our new black socks. I did not drink a lot. Neither did Onni, I think. I never saw Onni drunk, he was a moderate drinker.

Though that night another thing happened. I was asleep and in the small hours before dawn, Onni is knocking on my door. “Rundis! Up, quickly! You must fly to Mombasa!” “What? No, I don’t feel like flying to Mombasa now…” “Yes, now” said Onni and explained. The hotel Manager had gone to bed with a cigarette in his hand and fallen asleep. The mosquito net above the bed had caught fire and he was so bloody burned that he was unconscious. It was essential to get him to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Yes, I was game of course. I took the L5 this time; the propeller was not very good on the Auster. I remember, Onni and Lasse, it was those two who took care of the man and placed him on the backseat of the plane. He was unconscious the whole time. The buckled him in and so I flew to Mombasa while the others informed the ambulance there that I was on my way and asked them to come and collect him at the airport. I went with them to the hospital to see how things were and to talk to the doctor. He said that we had saved the man’s life. He would not have survived unless he had come in to the hospital so quickly.

I think I was the most experienced pilot. The others were not so experienced. Onni was a beginner but he got his licence. He was really good at navigation. He was very skilful. What he did later as well, with the Marathon runners. That was really something! But it was typical of Onni, he helped others to the front and it was he who did the work in the background. It was typical of him. He was a very kind person. I don’t think he was angry ever. No, I never saw him angry; on the contrary, if something happened, he always stayed calm.

Well, when the holiday was over we went flying. First we flew to Mombasa, Dar-el-Salam and then we stayed on Zanzibar, where we went swimming for a couple of days. After that, we flew to Kilimanjaro. Moshi was the name of the airport. Then we went back to Nairobi. From there, we were planning to fly the same route back home as we had flown there. We flew to Marsabit and met up with the Griffith family again and then came the worst part for Onni and Lasse…

We stayed over night and started in the morning after breakfast. We had agreed that this time we were not going to miss each other. We were going to keep contact with each other. We should not do as we did last time. But when we had flown a short distance, I see Onni and Lasse start circling and descend. I was wondering what the heck they were doing. I had no idea of what had happened. Suddenly, they just landed, right in the middle of the volcanic landscape! They found a spot to land on. I don’t understand how – it was unbelievable but at the same time lucky that the found a spot to descend and land on. Well, I will have to land as well, I thought. So I landed on the same spot. It was not very good, bumpy but it worked. “Well, you see”, said Onni, “the engine cut out!” It had jammed! ‘So they just had to land.

It was incredible that they managed the way they had! Well, what to do now? Not much choice but to go back to Marsabit. I could only take one person at the time so I said: “I will fly back to Marsabit and leave Aspliden there and then I will come back, pick up one of you and come back later to pick up the other one. Onni was the one to stay till last. That was typical of him, to send the others off first.

Well, they had survived, which was good, but we were not home and dry yet! They had a plane that they could not continue in and I could not take more than one person at the time, so Onni and Lasse were stranded out there in the bush. The next day, Griffith helped out with a lorry and people. It was not so far to the plane, bit still some distance. We all helped to lift the plane up onto the lorry.

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We took the plane to Marsabit and put it in their garden. I had no other choice than to continue with my passenger. We could not do anything to solve the situation at the moment.

Onni and Lasse decided to dismount the engine and take it with them and hitch-hike back home to Addis. They did get a ride now and then… with some old lorry that was passing once a week or so… but one distance they had to ride on donkeys with the engine under the arm…it took them a couple of weeks to get home.

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We knew they were alive and that they would make it, but it must have been a heck of a trip… to hitch-hike from the middle of Kenya all the way up to Addis. But they did arrive, unshaven but in good spirit. That was the end of the journey.

It took eight months before we got a new engine. We ordered a new engine from England, which was sent down to Nairobi in Kenya. I went down, mounted the engine and flew the plane back to Addis. That time I was alone. It turned into an adventure as well… I was not allowed to fly the same route back, so I had to fly an even worse route – back to Nairobi, down to Mombasa and the follow the coast line up to Somaliland – and that was much longer. But we can talk about that some other time…

The Adventurer # 3

Letter from Onni, published in Duvbo IK’s Annual Magazine 1955

I had obtained my pilot’s certificate and was going in my own plane, a three seated Auster 5, on a longer flight, together with a Swedish mechanic from the Ethiopian Air force. We teamed up with another small plane, flown by two other Swedes.

We planned the travel route so that we were flying from Addis Abeba to Marsabit in north Kenya and after that to Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Zanzibar, Dar-el-Salam, Kilimanjaro, Nairobi and back to Addis Abeba. None of the planes had a radio and therefore we could not communicate with each other in the air or with the radio stations at the airports. All we could do in the air was to try to keep together as best we could. And off we went.

When we approached the final destination for the first day, Marsabit, we lost sight of the other plane in the heat haze. We began looking for the airport that should be situated somewhere in the midst of the mountain massif. The visibility was bad, due to the low sun being in front of us. We slowly let the plane descent and started preparing for landing, while eagerly looking for the airfield. Without warning, the engine stopped and we lost height rapidly and the airport was still not to be seen anywhere. We were now on the edge of the massif, which on the south side declined towards vast desert areas. Fast action was required! We decided to stop looking for the airport and instead glide down along the slope in the hope of finding a suitable place for landing. There was a strange silence now that the engine was dead and we soared down like a bird. Then suddenly the engine started whirring again and we breathed out in relief.
It only worked for some 20 seconds and then it went quiet again. That kept happening for a couple of minutes and it helped us gain some height over the slope below us, which had now approached precariously. We headed for nearest level ground, but that was still several kilometres away. Then the engine cut out for good and the altimeter showed that we were descending alarmingly fast and got closer and closer to the undulating hill. A couple of thermal winds helped us gain a few metres a couple of times, but…

Even the edge of the desert, which we were approaching now, showed to be rather undulated and not at all suitable for landing. Now we were only approximately 40 metres over the ground and we could not keep the plane up any longer, so we would have to land. We landed in a curve to avoid a big sandbank to the right and during the last few metres in the air, the landing gear scraped against the dry shrubs on the edge of the desert. We got down without mishaps but it had been an exciting time.


When we stepped out of the plane, a heat like in an oven met us, it was not long before the shirt clung to the body from sweat, and we started feeling thirsty. We had eaten our afternoon snack in the plane an hour back, thinking that we would soon land in Marsabit and did not worry about rationing food and drink. All we had left now was a drop of tea and an egg and we did not dare to touch the tea.

We soon discovered that the trouble had been the magnet, but since the sun was going down, we decided to spend the night trying to sleep under the plane. The inside was like a sauna. Darkness fell fast and we stretched out on the warm sand with a seat-cushion each as a pillow. Sleeping was impossible. Loads of insects and bugs irritated us and we had a full time job, trying to get at them under our sticky shirts. In the dark, we heard different sounds from animals that were coming closer, wherefore we preferred to get back into the cabin, even though it was hot and uncomfortable.

The next morning we started repairing the magnet. The work took several hours and the heat increased bit by bit. We were so thirsty now, that we avoided talking to each other. The only place where we could get some shade was under the wings, but it was hot even in the shade.

During the descent down to the desert the previous day, we had lost quite a lot of petrol, when the float jammed. When we measured, we found that we only had around 17 litres left now, i.e. enough for maybe 40 minutes flying. Would that be enough to warm up the engine and fly up to the mountain top? We did not think so. We decided to try to figure out our exact position by pacing the distance to a couple of hills that did not look too far away. We walked for hours, but it turned out to be much further than we had estimated, so we had to return to the plane. Our thirst was almost unbearable now and when my friend offered me a Läkerol (a Swedish throat lozenge), that he found in his equipment, it turned many times worse. The lozenge stuck like a lump of pitch in the dry palate.

On our stumbling walk back to the plane, we caught sight of a caravan of people in the distance. We hurried towards them as fast as we could, shouting and whistling, but the distance was too great for them to hear us. We had to reach them, we thought. They must have water and it looked like they were carrying burdens on their heads. When we came closer, we saw that they were ostriches, walking in line. From a distance, they looked just like people who were carrying something on their heads. We had to sit down, for the run had made us even more tired, hungry and thirsty. We went as far as to try to hit guinea fowl with stones, where they wandered around in the scrubland. They were walking around only a few metres away, without showing any fear of us. When we got closer, they annoyingly moved away a few metres.

We now decided to start the engine and fly northeast, towards the only road, stretching from the south up to Marsabit. After that, we would follow the road as far as we could and possibly try landing on the road and go by foot to Marsabit. The start went well and we reached the road after the calculated 20 minutes flying. The road turned out to be very bad and not suitable for landing. We followed it for some distance and happily spotted a small native village with inhabitants. We now decided to land on best suitable, or maybe I should say “best unsuitable”, spot. Come what may, we needed water. We spotted a little slope and we landed there. That we managed to land without seriously damaging the plane, was more luck than skill. The plane jumped and skipped over tussocks and scrubs and we had to veer to both sides to avoid the small trees.

As soon as we had stopped, a bunch of natives gathered around the plane and they looked a bit suspiciously at us, babbling in a language that we did not understand at all. We tried to sign to them that we were thirsty. They led us into the large hut that probably belonged to the chief, and, from an animal hide that hung off the wall, they offered us some dirty brown water that you normally would not want to wash your feet in. This water tasted like a Godsend. All you had to do was to push the flies aside and gulp down several bowls.

When I had quenched the worst of the thirst, I took out a cigarette, struck a match and lit it. The natives looked at my cigarette and one of them asked to have one. I gave him matches and a cigarette. He put the match to the cigarette without striking it on the striking surface first. Then he waited for it to start burning, but nothing happened and he looked very bewildered. It surfaced that they had never dealt with matches before.

When I later took out a Läkerol lozenge, they wanted to try that. I gave the nearest man one. He sucked it a few times and then passed it on the next man, who did the same and so the lozenge passed round the group.

When I later started doing a few tricks for them, the whole assembly came to life. They drove out the remaining sheep and goats that were still in the hut and instead most of the villagers, there were not very many, gathered inside. I swallowed burning matches and cigarettes and they soon regarded me as a big medicine man and now the atmosphere changed to our advantage.

Through signing and a few words that they understood, such as “Marsabit” and “police”, I managed to make them understand that I wanted a message sent off to the Police Commissioner in Marsabit. After I had written down a message on a piece of paper, they sent a rider off on a mule. He very soon came back, since he had met a lorry that was on its way south from Marsabit. The driver had promised to take us with him.

While we were loading our things onto the lorry, an English military aeroplane came right over us, on its way towards Marsabit. After a while, another one showed up and they caught sight of us and started circling over the place. We understood that they were looking for us and signed to them that all was well. They answered, by sign, that they had comprehended and they continued north.

On the way, we saw very many elephants, which was interesting to us, who now saw wild elephants for the first time. We were overjoyed when we arrived in Marsabit. The other plane with the two Swedes had found the airport. They had waited for a while for us to arrive, but had then started searching. The next day, they had even alerted the English Air Force in Nairobi, asking for scouting help, and it was those planes we had seen.

After a bath and a change of clothes, dinner tasted splendid and, in front of the open fire, we told them about our adventure. We stayed with the hospitable Police Commissioner and his wife a couple of days, during which we picked up our plane and gave it an overhaul. The first night, when we walked over to the building where we should sleep, we had not walked more than ten metres from the main building, when we stopped dead in our steps by a lion’s roar. We could only see a pair of eyes, reflecting the light from the building. The Police Commissioner came running out with a rifle and a lamp, but the lion luckily retreated. The following night, we walked straight into three buffalos that were standing right outside the door. Even that time, we got away scot-free. The biggest problem for the Police Commissioner was the elephants, who roamed around in the area, destroying the small garden that he had struggled to keep alive in the drought.

It was with deep regret that we left the nice family a few days later. Our next destination was Nairobi and we arrived there without trouble. When there, we could read in the East African Standard that we had been missing and that searches for us had been on. We now had to tell the whole story to the press and the next day, there were flaming headlines on the front page about our rescue and our adventures. My wife, who was waiting at the beach hotel in Nyale Beach by the Indian Ocean, did not know anything about what had happened to us until she read about the adventure in the papers.

We spent a week by the sea and had a wonderful time with salty dips, goggle fishing and surfing, before we continued south to Zanzibar and new adventures that would take too long to enter into.

to be continued…

The Adventurer # 2

Interview with Daniel Rundström 2009

We had decided to go on a trip. It was Onni, Mary, Ingvar Aspliden, Ingvar ”Lasse” Larsson and me. We had arranged for permission to fly. We did not have a radio but got permission to fly from Ethiopia. We could not fly direct to Nairobi. There was not a chance to do that because we had to land twice on the way to fill up with fuel. There was no fuel in Ethiopia so we went to Air Force outside Addis. They flew to all sorts of places. We asked them to dump a tank of fuel for us the day before we were to take off, so we could land there and fill up. They did that and it worked very well.

I think it was a few days before we set off that we were invited to Haile Selassie at the palace … it was a heck of a party! They served alcohol. I don’t know how long it was between… I don’t think we flew the day after, he-he. We had to be in good shape when we left.

We knew that it was rather a challenge to fly over the mountains there, but in Ethiopia I had flown earlier so there it was not a problem. We flew in pairs so we were in contact with each other all the time. Eye contact, that is. We had decided that earlier so we would not lose contact, since we did not have any radio contact.


The first landing was planned for Marsabit in northern Kenya. It was a very special site, I will never forget it, that place… It was situated out in the terrain… there was only one family. He was District Commissioner, Police Colonel, and was from South Africa but of British descent. Mr Griffith was his name. I will never forget him. There was a small airport and that is where we were headed. That was the first stop on the journey, Marsabit in Kenya.

Then it happened… we used to take turns flying. Lasse did one distance and then Onni took over for another distance and now I had flown my distance in Ethiopia. Aspliden was a pilot, too, but he did not have a lot of experience. Lasse and I had the most flight experience so we were so to say ”in command”, the ones who were in charge should anything happen. There has to be someone in charge. I was sitting in the back and Asplind was a teacher in navigation, so I was convinced that he would do OK. There were no problems so I relaxed.

Then suddenly Onni and Lasse disappeared. We could not see them, but there was not point in searching because we only had enough fuel to make it to Marsabit. We had to go on, so we did. But Aspliden could not find the airport, he just could not find it! We found out why. It happens that, on the map, there is s special sign for mountain that looks like a moon on top of a mountain, but when it is a crater it is a crescent and we had missed that. We saw the crescent but thought it was a mountain. It was a crater where we should have landed but we flew past that airport without seeing it and Aspliden was getting nervous. He wasn’t so experienced and now he thought we had to do an emergency landing. We could not fly until we ran out of fuel. We had to land while we had fuel left.

”You have to do this” said Aspliden. ”Well”, said I, ”it’s not so easy from back here”. Of course I sat in the back and you can’t do any emergency landings from there. ”Well, what do we do now then? Can’t we change places?” In that cramped cockpit. ”Let us try” I said. So I crawled up front and sat on the side. I was folded over in 90 degrees and got hold of the control stick so that Aspliden could crawl over to the back seat. When he got out of the seat, I could sit down and buckle up. then I thought that ”now we have to find somewhere to land”.

I was rather experienced at ”bush landings”. I knew the L5. I knew that even when the fuel gauge went down to red you could still fly for a good while. Well, at least for another 10 minutes. I could not find a good place and realised I had to find somewhere. Then I saw a road. We got to the road and I thought it had to go to the airport. And sure enough it did, so after a short while I saw the airport. I had found it. I just dived down and landed, without checking wind or anything. I did that because I knew that the engine would cut out any second. And when we had landed and taxed in, the engine cut out. We had just made it!

We had been so occupied with our troubles so we had not had time to think about Onni and Lasse, but now that we had arrived at Marsabit and landed, we started getting worried. They were not there! What on earth had happened to them, we thought. The Mr Griffith came out and picked us up. It was the first time we met. He invited us to dinner but we were so down in the mouth, thinking that Onni and Lassa had crashed somewhere. The terrain around was very rough with volcanoes and such.

I don’t think I slept at all that night. The Griffith family were very nice and hospitable, but we could not appreciate that when our friends were gone.


Mr. Griffit to the left and Daniel Rundström to the right

Early next morning we reported to the British Air Force in Nairobi that one of our aircrafts was missing. They immediately sent out a plane to search for our friends. Aspliden and I also started combing the area systematically. We thought that they could not be so darn far away. We kept searching all day. Nothing! ”What the heck has happened” we wondered. But during the evening Onni and Lasse arrived by lorry and we were of course incredibly happy! But where on earth was the plane?

to be continued…

The Adventurer #1


This Auster Onni bought together with Daniel Rundström in the beginning of the fifties. Daniel came to Ethiopia 1946 as a young flight technician and worked at Bishoftu for von Rosen.

Daniel is still alive and well and lives at Dominica in east Caribbean. He have given me so many stories from his life that I have material for a book about his fantastic life. He was born 1925 and his dream today is to build an airplane and fly from Dominica to Ethiopia.

This is part one of a story about Onni and Daniel when they made a holiday trip to Kenya when Onni had got a flying certificate in the fifties.

Interview with Daniel “Rundis” Rundström 2009

“That time there in Ethiopia during the 40s and 50s meant a lot to me. I was only 20 years old, not even reached lawful age yet. At that time, you had to apply to the authorities to travel abroad alone if you were not of age.

I arrived in Ethiopia in 1946, just after the war. During the trip there I got to witness all the misery that the war caused in Europe. It started with Amsterdam, where you could see the bomb craters at the airport.

Onni was in Ethiopia when I arrived. He had left the military life. I thought that was good. He was made Secretary General of the Red Cross. The thing with Onni was that he was always in the background. He never made a fuss of himself. But he was behind most things.

He was very friendly with the Duke of Harrar (son of Emperor Haile Selassie). So was I, since I taught him a bit of technical stuff. He was interested in flying and so was Onni. We bought a plane together, Onni and I.

I went to India. Onni was very good friends with Thomson. He was Canadian and worked for the mission there. He was in frequent contact with Onni and it was Onni who hinted a little about me, so that I came to India. I had just got my pilot’s license, Ethiopian certificate, and did not have a lot of experience. I had approximately 80 flight hours behind me.

So I went to India and bought an aeroplane. We bought it together, Onni and I, in 1950. The plane we bought together, I shipped from Bombay to Aden by boat. It did not have a long range. The distances were too long to fly, but I flew another plane, a “Norsman”, from Bombay to Addis Ababa. I landed in Pakistan, in Karachi, and then in Marsays, on the island Masirah outside the Arabian east coast. On to Salalah, that is located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden. Salalah was an English protectorate so RAF had an airbase there. From there I flew on to Ethiopia and Addis Ababa.

Later, after about a month, the plane that Onni and I bought arrived in Aden. It came in a crate, it was almost new but we got it cheap. You could buy aeroplanes very cheap during those years. I went to Aden and assembled the “cart” and flew it to Addis.

About Onni, I would like to say that he had very good organisation skills, he could organise things. It was he who arranged things when IFK Norrköping were in Addis to play football. He arranged it all. It was he who told me to fly over the football ground and drop the ball for kick off, to make it a bit fun, and the Emperor was there. He arranged at lot of things for the Emperor. There were Red Cross parties, motorcycle races. I have a programme from one of those where Onni is listed as organiser. I got along well with Onni. We had a lot of fun together, Onni and I.


Later, in the mid 1950’s, I flew with him in a plane from Yemen to Addis Ababa. He had just divorced Mary. She later died before he did. I think she was a plucky girl. I appreciated her, she was fun and always attending all parties. We always had lots of parties in those days. Mary was a very intelligent person. I actually spent rather a lot of time with Onni and Mary.

We did a lot of things together. We were out flying this Auster. But the flight we did together, that is the best. To me, that topped everything!

That was really some flight, I can tell you! I think that is the strongest memory I have of Onni is that trip. We stayed at the same hotel and went swimming at Malindi by the Indian Ocean. Onni did not have a lot of experience as a pilot so I suggested he’d take a more experienced pilot and good friend of mine with him. Lasse Larsson. Ingvar Larsson was his name but everybody called him Lasse. He and Onni went in the Auster and I flew the L-5 together with another special person, who is dead now. He was a meteorologist and named Ingvar Aspliden. He got hold of an American woman at the American Embassy in Addis and married her. He eventually ended up in Virginia, USA.

The plane that Onni flew certainly had room for four, but we had to take a lot of extra fuel, so Mary had to fly Ethiopian Airlines to Nairobi and then we met up at Malindi. There was another man there when we arrived. Pilkvist was his name and I think that he and Mary had travelled there together. We only met in Malindi and then we separated again.

Onni and I flew further south to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. On my way home I had met a girl who lived near Kilimanjaro. We landed there on the way because I wanted to see this girl. Then we flew back via Nairobi. But this was the most smashing thing of the trip… but maybe I should start at the beginning… but it was just unbelievable!”

to be continued…

Photo Album

Onnis album

DSC_2405 (2)


stadsloppet 1938

Onni Niskanen The Trainer and Coach

DSC_8646 - Kopia
(piciture: Tim Judahs book and Onnis stopwatch)

(From Swedish Newspaper 1948)

Ethiopia to get into the Olympics – Onni Niskanen gives promises

“This year we were too late to participate in the Olympic Games” says Captain Onni Niskanen, who is joining us as the official representative for the Sports Federation in Addis Ababa. He has worked there, as a sports instructor and adviser, for two years and has had the contract extended for two more.

“I will inquire with the Olympics ‘bigwigs’ and, as soon as I get back home, I will start putting together an Ethiopian Olympics committee so that we can take part in Helsinki 1952.

So far, I have worked solely in Addis Ababa, but in the future, my work field will be extended to include the countryside, where the great talents are and the human material is especially good. That is not an exaggeration, with the barefoot boys being able to run for days in all types of terrain. As a matter of course, they play football barefoot as well. It only just happens that they bind up their ankles”, Niskanen concludes.


Below is part of an article published in the Swedish edition of Runner’s World No. 11, 2008, and is reproduced here with permission from the author.

Author: Ulf Wickbom

It all started at 2.000 metres altitude, in Ethiopia. That is where the foundation for the dominance in long distance running was laid. However, the Swede Onni Niskanen was also in this picture. He raised the first talents to become international stars. Abebe Bikila had a training based on Niskanen’s experience from Duvbo IK, GIH (The Swedish University for Gym Teachers) and Vålådalen. The Swedish broad athletics games were the model used when Niskanen organised the schools sports programmes and the Governmental activities in Ethiopia.

Meriter 1

Meriter 2

Meriter 3

This is the story how Ethiopia became so dominante in longdistance running in the world and still is. I wonder if there are any trainers and coatches that are so successfull as Onni was?

Photo Album

Onnis album


Britta Björk and Onni Niskanen 1936

Mary Onni 23.9 1943

Mary and Onni 23/9 1943

Mexico Olympic Games 1968

Mexico 1968

Onni Niskanen about the 10,000 metre final: Mamo Wolde was in good form…It was agreed that he should stay in the lead group until 20 laps were done and then he was to give it his all. Everything went according to plan and then when there were five laps to go he speeded up. The other good runners were immediately left behind. Only Naftali Temu from Kenya speeded up all he could.

These two, Mamo about 25 metres ahed, kept up the same tough pace for the remaining laps. Temu got closer and closer. When the bell rang for the last lap Mamo went up to his maximum speed, and so did Temu. One hundred metres before the goal Temu was only a few metres behind. Both gave all they had, Temu just a few steps behind Mamo.

The audience was ecstatic to see such a finale to the 10,000 metres race. Temu got closer, centimetre by centimetre and just before passing the goal he passed Mamo by a few centimetres.

Onni Niskanen about the marathon race: All three Ethiopians took it easy in the beginning, but after five kilometres Abebe was in the lead group. Mamo was slightly behind with Merawi Gebru, the third Ethiopian. Ten kilometres passed with Abebe still in the lead group. At 15 kilometres he had fallen back a little, I saw he was in pain due to his leg, and I advised him to withdraw, which he did after a few kilometres.

Mamo Wolde, who had been lying in the back until now, advanced slowly towards the lead.
At 25 kilometres he was in third place with Temu from Kenya in the lead. Mamo took the lead and gradually left the others behind, securing himself the Olympic gold medal.

Mamo Wolde and Onni Niskanen