Oxygen failure on Gambia team flight: Gambia’s national football team, en route to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), faced a perilous journey as their chartered flight turned into a nightmare, leaving players and staff in a life-threatening situation. This gripping account reveals the harrowing details of the ordeal that unfolded in the skies.
The squad had just completed their pre-tournament training in Saudi Arabia, anticipating a smooth transition to Ivory Coast for their AFCON opener against Senegal. However, what followed was an experience that none of them could have anticipated – an ordeal that would have lasting effects on their physical and mental well-being.
Heat and Discomfort Aboard: The Start of a Nightmare
As the team boarded the chartered flight, discomfort quickly settled in, with many players sweating profusely due to the “immense heat” within the cabin. Initially reassured by the cabin crew that the issue would be resolved once airborne, the situation took a dark turn. Former Manchester United player Saidy Janko posted a clip on Instagram, illustrating the alarming conditions.
“The inhumane heat mixed with the occurring lack of oxygen left many people with strong headaches and extreme dizziness,” he wrote.
The players, expecting relief once the plane took off, found themselves plunged into an alarming situation. Head coach Tom Saintfiet described the escalating conditions:
“After nine minutes, the pilot decided to return because there was no oxygen supply. Some players did not wake up immediately after landing. We almost got carbon monoxide poisoning. Another half hour of flight, and we would all be dead.”
Emergency Landing: A Narrow Escape from Tragedy
The lack of oxygen took a toll on the squad, causing them to fall into a deep sleep during the flight. The pilot’s quick thinking became the saving grace. Recognizing the severity of the situation, an emergency landing was initiated just nine minutes after takeoff, back at Banjul airport.
Coach Saintfiet emphasized the gravity of the moment, stating,
“If the flight had gone on for another 30 minutes, the whole team would have died.”
The decision to turn the plane around and land swiftly showcased the pilot’s critical role in averting a potential disaster.
Air Côte d’Ivoire, the official airline of AFCON 2023, confirmed a pressurization issue as the cause for the emergency landing. The incident underscored the importance of meticulous safety measures in air travel, especially for high-profile events like the Africa Cup of Nations. Despite the potential danger, Saintfiet suggested the passengers might have been facing carbon monoxide poisoning. However, Gambia Football Federation (GFF) president Lamin Kaba Bajo dismissed this claim, stating,
“I never felt it, and it’s not clinically, scientifically, or medically proven.”
Aftermath Challenges: Bonus Dispute and Determined Return
In the aftermath of this traumatic experience, the Gambia squad faces additional challenges. The incident comes amid tension between the players and the GFF over bonuses, leading to a disrupted training session before the tournament. Despite the physical discomfort and mental distress, the team, undeterred, resumed training upon their return to Banjul.
Gambia’s preparations for AFCON have been far from ideal. The bonus payment dispute, coupled with the recent near-death experience, raises concerns about the team’s mental and emotional state heading into the tournament. Coach Saintfiet, reflecting on the situation, said,
“After yesterday’s experience, we are still a little afraid of traveling and have little headaches still too, but we want to leave, to finish preparing for the CAN.”
Gambia’s AFCON journey, initially expected to be routine, turned into a life-threatening ordeal that tested the resilience of the national football team. From the unbearable heat on the faulty plane to the lack of oxygen that prompted an emergency landing, the players’ survival was at stake.
As they face the aftermath, grappling with bonus disputes and physical discomfort, the team’s ability to overcome these challenges will be closely watched as they gear up for the AFCON in Ivory Coast.