Gambia squad off to Ivory Coast for Afcon after flight scare

Plane had to make emergency landing in capital Banjul on Wednesday

The Gambia national team aboard a plane in Banjul, Gambia, on Wednesday. The chartered flight had to make a emergency landing soon after takeoff. The players were able to travel to Ivory Coast on Thursday. AP
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Gambia's national team finally began their Africa Cup of Nations journey after a harrowing 24 hours.

A plane carrying Gambia's squad made an emergency landing, delaying their arrival at the tournament in the Ivory Coast.

The squad set off from Banjul on Wednesday on a short trip to Yamoussoukro, where they are scheduled to play their opening two group games. However, minutes after takeoff they turned around, apparently due to a lack of oxygen inside the plane.

The flight returned to Gambia's capital after being airborne for nine minutes when the crew realised there were technical problems, Gambia's Football Federation said in a statement.

“Upon landing, preliminary investigations indicated that there was loss of cabin pressure and oxygen,” the federation said.

The players were on their way to compete in the Afcon which begins Saturday.

In a post on Instagram, Gambia player Saidy Janko said the lack of oxygen left people with headaches and extreme dizziness, with many falling asleep minutes after takeoff.

“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,” Janko wrote on Instagram.

"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 take off.

“Whilst in the air, the situation got worse, leaving the pilot with no other option, than initiating an emergency landing back in Banjul airport nine minutes after take off, which happened successfully. If it wasn’t for this, the consequences could have been a lot worse,” he wrote.

Air Cote d'Ivoire - the official airlines for Afcon 2023 - told the BBC in a statement that the crew decided to return due to a pressurisation problem.

On Thursday, the Gambia Football Federation revealed that the team had taken another flight to Ivory Coast.

It remains to be seen how the players will pull up after a harrowing itinerary that had already lasted more than 30 hours. It included travel from their training camp in Saudi Arabia to Gambia with layovers in Istanbul and Casablanca.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 5:52 PM