Pigs don’t fly: Air Zimbabwe plane crashes into bushpig on runway

bushpigIt took a wild pig on the runway at Harare International Airport to reveal what many Zimbabweans have long feared: the country's Civil Aviation Authority and the national airline have gone the way of much of Zimbabwes other frayed institutions.

A statement from the Transport Ministry said last week that one of Air Zimbabwes Chinese-made MA60 60-seaters had crashed on Tuesday after hitting the bushpig a smaller relative of the warthog on take-off. The nose, a wingtip and a propeller were damaged.

A letter from a public-spirited passenger published yesterday in The Standard newspaper revealed that the incident was far more serious than the ministry had admitted.

Fambai Ngirande said that it was by Gods grace that he and the other 37 passengers and crew on board the flight to the western city of Bulawayo had not all perished. It was plain, he said, that the airline had no disaster response strategy and its personnel did not have a clue of what to do in a crisis.

The plane was just about to lift off when we heard a loud bang from underneath followed by violent shaking of the entire aircraft, wrote Mr Ngirande. The aircraft veered off the runway into the grass before it came to a halt. Smoke and dust engulfed the cabin as passengers screamed for dear life. With a petrified hostess shrieking Evacuate!, they discovered that one of the emergency exits was jammed. Passengers were able to jump out of the stricken plane after the main doors were laboriously opened.

The Transport Ministry had said that two people were injured after evacuation. This, Mr Ngirande explained, was after passengers sprinted away from the plane but crashed blindly into ditches on the dark airfield.

The airport emergency rescue service took five minutes to reach the plane. They were beaten by a contingent of secret police, whose first act was to arrest two passengers for taking photographs.

There was no medical care and it took an hour for an Air Zimbabwe manager to have water distributed. He tried to reassure them by saying that the airlines chief executive was on his way to the airport. The passengers retorted that they did not eat CEOs, said Mr Ngirande.

Friends and relatives of the passengers alerted to the accident by mobile phone, gathered at the airport to find out what had happened but were told nothing and refused access, added Mr Ngirande. At midnight, five hours after the crash, the passengers were allowed to leave.

The following morning I spoke to the two people who had been arrested, he wrote. They had been interrogated at length, had their cameras and tapes seized and were released at 1am.

Mr Ngirandes flight had been delayed by the departure of the personal jet of the Congolese President, Joseph Kabila. It doesn’t bear thinking about if the bushpig had run into Kabilas plane, said another passenger, who asked not to be named.

Animal accidents

A flock of geese brought down a US Airways jet in New York in January, forcing it to land in the Hudson River

In March 2008 a Kingfisher Airlines jet hit a dog during take-off at Bangalore airport.

In July the same year, an Emirates aircraft crushed a dog during take-off at Ahmedabad

In 2005, an Air France jet hit a herd of 50 cows at Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

The Times (UK)

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