Heinz Müller worked for many years in Development at the MANN+HUMMEL plant in Ludwigsburg. In his blog article, he tells the story of a vehicle test in Algeria, and how it was brought to an abrupt end by a hailstorm – one of Heinz Müller’s countless experiences out in the field:
“It was late summer in 1979. As per usual, I was on a trip with one of our major clients to test and improve air filters for engines. More precisely, the aim was to test how the cars reacted to dust. Where better to research that question than in the desert?
My task was to seek out a suitable dirt track; and so it came to be that we travelled to Biskra in Algeria. By ‘we’, I mean a group of about ten people. The test was supposed to last for ten days; and for ten whole days the vehicles and the filters were supposed to be exposed to the desert dust.
Vehicle test in Algeria – a special case
Since it was extremely hot during the daytime, the group decided to carry out the vehicle test in Algeria at night. Every day at about 5 p.m. we would set out from our hotel in Biskra. Our seven vehicles would then drive in convoy for 30 kilometres or so to the dirt track, along the paved road that led through a dried-up riverbed, and on into the desert.
Once we reached the dirt track, we placed a platform with a tent at the starting point. Fortunately by the evening time the temperature was generally quite agreeable, but we then faced a different problem: darkness. We had attached a lamp to the tent, and the test track of around 25 kilometres was marked out with pennants and lights. Even so, it was difficult to keep to the track – the lamp on the tent quickly disappeared in the expanse of desert, and the lights were unable to last all night. The monotonous surroundings also caused several of us, myself included, to nod off in the car.
Every morning, after twelve hours of strenuous test driving, we would then drive back to Biskra. On the third day we arrived back at the hotel at about 7 a.m. Dog tired, we fell into bed, with no idea of what this particular day had in store for us …
The sky seemed to explode
It all started quite harmlessly: just before we were about to set off for the dirt track again later that night, a storm started to brew. The dust swirled around in the air and clouds gathered. Then something strange happened: the sky turned yellow and suddenly seemed to explode!
A hailstorm broke out, the like of which I had never experienced, and the hailstones were enormous!
One after the other, the hotel windows were smashed and, of course, the vehicles also didn’t escape unharmed.
The previously dry riverbed, through which we had driven that very morning, filled up with torrents of water that carried away everything in its path.
Forces of nature
The hailstorm ended a good hour later. By the time the storm finally cleared, it was discovered that fifteen people had died, victims to the forces of nature – a fact that shook us all to the core. Our team got away with nothing worse than a nasty shock. However it was clear from a quick glance at our cars that no more tests were going to be possible with those vehicles. We had to get back to Germany, but we couldn’t leave without the cars. We spent two days getting hold of Plexiglas and patching up the broken windscreens. In those days, garages and workshops were very hard to find in Algeria.
After just three of the planned ten days of testing, we set off for home – disappointed as far as the purpose of the trip was concerned, but immensely happy to be alive …”