The Gambia’s coach, Tom Saintfiet, said he and his players feared for their lives after the plane taking them to the Africa Cup of Nations made an emergency landing, delaying their arrival at the tournament in the Ivory Coast.
The team from The Gambia departed from Banjul on Wednesday to travel to Yamoussoukro for their first two group matches. However, shortly after takeoff, they had to turn back due to insufficient oxygen in the plane. The pilot was quick to recognize the issue and turned the plane around after nine minutes of flying. We all ended up falling asleep during the flight.
Saidy Janko, who previously played for Manchester United and is now on the Swiss team Young Boys, shared a thorough account on social media. In his Instagram post, he described the intense heat that hit them as soon as they boarded the small plane hired for their trip. The crew assured them that the air conditioning would start once they were airborne. However, the combination of extreme heat and lack of oxygen caused many passengers to experience severe headaches and dizziness. Some even fell into a deep sleep shortly after take-off.
“During the flight, the situation deteriorated, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing at Banjul airport only nine minutes after take-off. Fortunately, the landing was successful. If not for this quick action, the consequences could have been much more severe.”
According to the Gambia Football Federation, initial inquiries have revealed a decrease in cabin pressure and oxygen. However, the technical team employed by the flight’s operating company, Air Côte d’Ivoire, is currently conducting a more thorough evaluation to determine the cause of the oxygen and pressure deficiency.
Attempts were made to contact Air Côte d’Ivoire and the Confederation of African Football for a statement, however, neither provided an immediate response.
On Thursday, Saintfiet stated that his team was still experiencing nausea and headaches. They are scheduled to leave at 4pm in the local time. The Gambia will face Senegal, the reigning champions, in their first game of Group C in Yamoussoukro on Monday.