The Gambia national football team suffered a horrendous ordeal en route to the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations, with their flight forced to make an emergency landing due to an oxygen supply failure on board.
Heading from Gambia’s capital Banjul to this year’s host nation of the Ivory Coast, several of Tom Saintfiet’s playing squad and coaching staff suffered strong headaches and bouts of dizziness despite being assured the aeroplane was safe to fly.
Less than 10 minutes after the initial takeoff, the pilots were forced to make a U-turn and perform an emergency landing back at Banjul International Airport as those in the cabin fainted and complained of extreme heat while sweating profusely in the cabin.
The Gambia are due to begin their AFCON campaign against Senegal – one of the tournament favourites – at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium in Yamoussoukro next Monday in Group C, which also contains Cameroon and Guinea.
In a post shared to Instagram, defender Saidy Janko, a former youth player at Manchester United, confirmed he and his team-mates were ‘feeling well’ but condemned the ‘unacceptable’ situation they found themselves in ahead of their opening game.
‘After traveling 32 hours in total from Saudi Arabia (training camp) to The Gambia with long layovers in Istanbul and Casablanca, we were supposed to fly from Gambia to Ivory Coast for the AFCON today,’ Janko said.
‘As soon as we entered the small plane that was hired to fly us, we noticed the immense heat that left us dripping in sweat. It was assured to us by the crew that the air conditioning would start once we were in the sky.
‘The inhumane heat mixed with the occurring lack of oxygen left many people with strong headaches and extreme dizziness. Furthermore, people started falling deeply asleep minutes after entering the aircraft/takeoff.
‘Whilst in the air, the situation got worse, leaving the pilot with no other option, than initiating an emergency landing back in Banjul airport nine minutes after takeoff. Which happened successfully.
‘If it wasn’t for this, the consequences could have been a lot worse!!!… knowing what could have happened, if we would have been exposed to the situation for any longer – in an airplane, running out of oxygen.’
Janko added: ‘We are grateful that everyone is feeling well but this is a situation that has to be addressed going into the AFCON, as being only one of our obstacles on international duty.
‘This is unacceptable and such has to cease with immediate effect.’
The Gambia’s head coach, Tom Saintfiet, believes everyone on board would have died had the pilots not made the decision to return to Banjul for an emergency landing.
‘We could have been dead. We all fell asleep quickly. Me, too. I had short dreams about how my life was done. Really and truly,’ he told Belgian outlet Nieuwsblad.
‘After nine minutes the pilot decided to return because there was no oxygen supply.
‘Some players did not wake up until immediately after landing.
‘We almost got carbon monoxide poisoning. Another half hour of flying and we would all have been dead.’
A statement from the Gambia Football Federation revealed that Air Cote d’Ivoire had launched an investigation into the incident.
‘The Gambia Football Federation (GFF) regrets to inform the general public that the Chartered Flight carrying the Scorpions to the African cup of Nations has returned to Banjul due to technical problems,’ it read.
‘The flight was nine minutes airborne when the crew realised and immediately requested to return to Banjul.
‘Upon landing, preliminary investigations indicated that there was loss of cabin pressure and oxygen. However, the technical team of the operating company of the flight, Air Cote d’Ivoire is further assessing the situation to establish what caused the lack of oxygen and cabin pressure.
‘In this regard, the team, including the players and staff are now on their way to base at the Ocean Bay Hotel as they await further instructions. It is important to note that every member of the delegation is safe and in sound health.
‘The public will be kept informed with regard any development on the matter. We apologise for any inconvenience that this may have caused as we seek to find a quick solution for the team to travel to Ivory Coast as soon as possible.’
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