Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet said he and his players feared for their lives after the plane taking them to the Africa Cup of Nations finals made an emergency landing, delaying their arrival at the tournament in the Ivory Coast.
Gambia’s squad set off from Banjul on Wednesday on a short trip to Yamoussoukro, where they will play their opening two group games, but minutes after take-off they turned around because of a lack of oxygen inside the plane, he said.
“Luckily for us, the pilot recognised the problem and after nine minutes in the air turned around to land again. We all fell asleep,” he told Reuters.
Gambia fullback Saidy Janko, formerly at Manchester United and now with Swiss champions Young Boys, posted a detailed description on social media.
“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 condition would start once we are in the sky,” he wrote on Instagram.
“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 take off.
“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 take off, which happened successfully. If it wasn’t for this, the consequences could have been a lot worse,” he wrote.
A statement from the Gambia Football Federation said preliminary investigations indicated that there was a 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,” the statement said.
Air Cote d’Ivoire were approached for comment on Thursday but did not immediately respond. The Confederation of African Football were also approached for comment and did not respond.
Saintfiet said his players were still struggling with nausea and headaches on Thursday but that they were due to depart at 4 pm local time.
Gambia play their opening Group C game in Yamoussoukro on Monday against defending champions Senegal.