Flight carrying football team turns back from oxygen loss as players pass out

Saidy Janko / Instagram

On January 10, 2024, a chartered flight carrying the football team of Gambia was forced to turn around shortly after takeoff due to oxygen loss in the cabin.

The team was flying from Banjul International Airport (BJL) to Yamoussoukro Airport (ASK) on the Ivory Coast, where the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) will take place from January 13 – February 11, 2024.

One of the team members on the flight, former Manchester United and Celtic player Saidy Janko, shared details on his social media accounts about the ordeal that the players endured. 

According to Janko, the immense heat could already be felt when the players boarded the flight, which was operated by Air Côte d’Ivoire, also the official transport partner and sponsor of AFCON 2023.

Prior to taking the flight from the Gambia, the team flew in from Saudi Arabia for pre-tournament conditioning and training.

Janko said that the team had already traveled for a total of 32 hours from Saudi Arabia to the Gambia, with long layovers in Istanbul Airport (IST) and Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) in Casablanca.

The caption of Janko’s Instagram post read: “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 continued: “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 entering the aircraft/takeoff.”

According to Janko, the situation “got worse” while in the air, which forced the pilot to perform an emergency landing back to Banjul Airport, nine minutes after takeoff.

The flight landed safely, and apart from some players passing out due to the heat,  no one was reported to be seriously injured.

Although the 28-year old football player said he was grateful that everyone was well and that the situation could have gotten much worse, he also condemned the incident, saying it was an “obstacle” to the players’ duties, and described the harrowing experience as “unacceptable.”

Air Côte d’Ivoire has since provided an official statement via its Facebook page, confirming the incident and saying that “pressurization problem” in the aircraft made the crew decide to turn back.

The airline has also said that the problem could have been resolved quickly and fixed by a mechanic at the airport. However, the flight crew had already reached their regulatory flight time.

The carrier also said it had dispatched a second flight crew for the players to proceed to their flight to Yamoussoukro.

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