The Gambian national team survived a “death” scare after their flight was aborted just a few minutes after leaving Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday.
The Scorpions qualified for the African Cup Of Nations for the third time in their history, making it back-to-back tournament after they were eliminated in the quarter-finals back in 2021 in Cameroon.
They were booked to leave their capital city Banjul on Wednesday but a few minutes after the flight took off it had to return back after the pilot found out there was a serious oxygen problem.
“The local crew said there was a problem with the air conditioning before we took off but that it would be all fine when we took off,” head coach Tom Saintfiet, who worked with Free State Stars in 2014, told BBC Sport Africa.
“After a few minutes, it was very hot in the plane. We all fell asleep because there was a lack of oxygen – some of the players couldn’t be woken up. The pilot noticed and we had to return.
“People got headaches and if the flight had gone on for another 30 minutes, the whole team would have died. The strange thing is that the oxygen masks didn’t come out – it’s good that the pilot realised that this was a deadly situation and so turned back.
“But we are still in shock.
“Some players could not train because of what happened. They still have headaches and that is worrying, while some of the players are still dizzy,” added Saintfiet.
“The team requested to train as we had been travelling overnight from Saudi Arabia to return home on Sunday, and Monday as well. We trained in a bid to release the stress.”
Saintfiet believes the passengers could have been facing carbon monoxide poisoning, but Gambian FA (GFA) president Lamin Kaba Bajo refuted that suggestion.
“I never felt it and it’s not clinically, scientifically or medically proven,” Kaba Bajo told the BBC.
“Those are individual observations and perceptions but there was not anything like that. I was almost sitting next to the coach and I didn’t see anyone collapse. I know that people, when a plane takes off, they sleep.
“Some people were dozing, sleeping, but we landed safely. There was not a single incident, we all came down and boarded the bus to go back to the terminal.”
After the incident, Gambia boarded another flight on Thursday and successfully arrived in Ivory Coast. They will open their tournament against Morocco on Monday, 15 January.