Air Zimbabwe’s history-rich Boeing 767 makes emergency U-turn

Allen Watkin

Air Zimbabwe special repatriation flight UM462 experienced a mid-air emergency and was forced to make a U-turn, after one of the Boeing 767 engines shut down on July 1, 2020. 

The flight UM462 took off from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), Thailand, at 06:53 UTC. There were 17 crew and two passengers onboard the Boeing 767-200, according to Air Zimbabwe. The aircraft was scheduled to fly to Islamabad, Pakistan, where it was due to pick up 180 passengers for a special repatriation flight to South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

However, shortly after leaving Bangkok, the flight crew sent an emergency signal (squawk 7700). The Boeing 767-200 left engine reported an abnormal parameter, therefore the pilots were forced to shut it down, as established standard operating procedures require, the airline explained in a statement later on the same day. 

The flight UM462 made a U-turn over Myanmar (Burma) and landed safely back in Thailand at 08:39 UTC where Air Zimbabwe’s engineers made necessary assessments and maintenance for the aircraft’s return to service.

Twice retired, twice impounded Boeing 767

The aircraft involved in the incident was the 30-year old Boeing 767-200, registration number Z-WPF, powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines. The wide-body was delivered to the carrier in October 1990. Since then, the aircraft was sent to storage, and later returned to service, twice. It was also twice impounded because of the airline’s debts. 

In September 2012, the airliner was sent to storage in Harare International (HRE), where it spent two years until eventually returning to service in September 2014. In November 2017, the air carrier stored the aircraft again, returning it to active operations in November 2018, data shows. 

In 2011, the aircraft was famously impounded at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) after Air Zimbabwe failed to make $1.2 million payment for aircraft spares. The story became a cautionary fairytale for the country’s officials. The Zimbabwean government allegedly created a second national carrier, Zimbabwe Airways, just to avoid the situation repeating on international flights. Nevertheless, history did repeat itself in October 2019, when the very same aircraft was impounded for debts once again, but this time at Johannesburg or Tambo (JNB).


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