‘Not willing to die’: Gambian football team minutes from death after flight nightmare

Gambia’s national team came within minutes of dying after the oxygen supply failed on their plane.

The squad were flying from their capital city of Banjul to the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast when the serious problem occurred.

Several players passed out on the plane, before the pilot was forced to return to Banjul Airport for an emergency landing just nine minutes after takeoff.

Former Manchester United man Saidy Janko was among the players on board the aircraft.

And he shared a video on Instagram of the players getting off the plane, alongside the caption: “Unacceptable. After travelling 32 hours in total from Saudi Arabia (Training Camp) to The Gambia with long layovers in Istanbul and Casablanca, we were supposed to fly from Gambia to Ivory Coast for the AFCON today.

“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 airconditioning would start once we are in the sky.

“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.”

The 28-year-old, who played one game for Man Utd in 2014 in a 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons, added: “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 takeoff. Which happened successfully.

“If it wasn’t for this, the consequences could have been a lot worse!!! Knowing what could have happened, if we would have been exposed to the situation for any longer – in an airplane, running out of oxygen …

“We are grateful that everyone is feeling well but this is a situation that has to be addressed going into the AFCON, as being only one of our obstacles on international duty.

“This is unacceptable and [as] such has to cease with immediate effect.”

Gambia’s manager Tom Saintfiet spoke to Nieuwsblad about the harrowing ordeal, explaining: “We could all have been dead.

“We all fell asleep quickly. Me, too. I had short dreams about how my life was done. Really and truly.

“After nine minutes the pilot decided to return because there was no oxygen supply. Some players did not wake up [until] immediately after landing.”

The Gambian team are now seeking a way of travelling to Ivory Coast ahead of their opening Africa Cup of Nations match against Senegal on Monday.

They have also been drawn in a group alongside Cameroon and Guinea in Group C.

But Saintfiet insists he is not willing to risk his life to complete the two-and-a-half-hour flight to the tournament.

He added: “We are now in Gambia and no longer want to fly with such an aircraft. That was about the smallest they could find, perhaps, with propellers, for 50 people.

“As if the only thing mattered was that it flew. There are limits, I am willing to die on the football field, I am not willing to die for my job off the field.”

The Gambian Football Federation released a statement which read: “The Chartered Flight carrying the Scorpions to the African Cup of Nations has returned to Banjul due to technical problems.

“The flight was nine minutes airborne when the crew realised and immediately requested to return to Banjul.”

This story first appeared in The Sun and was republished with permission.

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