Gambia manager Tom Saintfiet said the pilot of their aborted maiden trip to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) saved the lives of his players and staff by turning the plane around minutes after take-off.
The team left Gambia’s capital Banjul on Wednesday on a flight operated by the tournament’s official airline, Air Cote d’Ivoire, after a long journey for players and staff from their training camp in Saudi Arabia.
Saintfiet praised the pilot for reacting to a scenario the trainer described as deadly by quickly turning the flight around and returning to Banjul.
Members of the team, including former Manchester United defender Saida Janko, were left shaken after quickly losing consciousness on the plane. Janko stated that the situation could have been “much worse” had it not been for the pilot’s actions.
Here’s what happened, what was said in response and the latest on Gambia’s preparations for the tournament.
What happened on Gambia’s flight to AFCON 2023?
The plane carrying the Gambian crew turned around minutes into the flight after several passengers fell into a deep sleep.
A statement from Air Cote d’Ivoire said the flight crew decided to turn back due to a pressurization problem that could be resolved by a mechanic, adding that the flight was subsequently canceled due to the impact of earlier delays on crew hours. .
But Saintfiet suggested the team may have been facing carbon monoxide poisoning, telling ESPN the passengers were “really dying”.
“There was no oxygen on that plane,” said the highly respected Belgian coach. “Everyone fell asleep, passed out a bit, and after nine minutes in the air the pilot decided to come back to save our lives.
“No oxygen masks dropped… I’m ready to die for The Gambia, but on the football field, not off it. I had short dreams where my life was flowing; I had moments when I thought I was dying.”