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Bush gets quiet send-off on a heavily guarded runway

PSNI marksmen on a hangar at RAF Aldergrove waiting for the arrival of President Bush.
PSNI marksmen on a hangar at RAF Aldergrove waiting for the arrival of President Bush.

It was a flying visit — in every sense of the word.

The almighty roar of Air Force One filled the sky as the US President flew out of Northern Ireland shortly after 7pm for the last time in an official capacity. His trip — lasting around four hours in total — was certainly brief, and if Mr Bush was sad at leaving Ulster he hid it well.

After honouring various engagements — first at Stormont Castle with First minister Peter Robinson, deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness, as well as former Assembly leader Dr Ian Paisley and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, and then at Lough View Integrated School — there was one last task to undertake.

In private and out of the glare of an ever-watchful media, the outgoing President joined British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Aldergrove to meet General Officer Commanding (GOE) Chris Brown and members of the Puma helicopter squad, who are in training for service in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen press shivered alongside NIO and MOD press officers, under the watchful eye of marksmen — who once again appeared on the roof of a nearby hangar — as the 48-strong motorcade swept back along the runway towards Air Force One which had been patiently waiting on the tarmac since touchdown.

If Mr Bush looked underwhelmed by the small audience left to send him off, he had stringent security measures surrounding the military base to thank. Week-long preparations before his visit ensured that nothing was left to chance. Secret Service men, snipers and PSNI officers were in place all day.

Waiting to bid the President a final farewell by the side of the stairs climbing up to the Boeing 747-200b series aircraft were RAF Station Commander Captain David Stubbs and his wife Kath, while a lone police helicopter began to circle above the runway.

Then, just 15 minutes behind schedule, the President stepped onto the tarmac with a wave, as his entourage raced out from cars and onto the presidential plane. With a kind word to his send-off party, he climbed the stairs, spoke briefly to the First lady, andwaved one final time.

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