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Gambia national team narrowly escapes disaster amid flight to AFCON 2023

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Gambia national team narrowly escape disaster amid flight to AFCON 2023

The Gambia football squad narrowly escape disaster when traveling to the Africa Cup of Nations, coming “within half an hour of dying” when the cabin oxygen supply failed.

The squad and coaching staff were on a trip from Banjul to Ivory Coast for the competition when several players passed out shortly after boarding.

Only nine minutes after takeoff, the pilot was forced to return to Banjul Airport for an emergency landing due to inadequate oxygen supplies on board.

The former Manchester United player Saidy Janko said in an Instagram post that some on board were left suffering from “strong headaches and extreme dizziness”.

Janko, who posted a video of the squad disembarking the plane, slammed his country’s association for the “unacceptable” situation.

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The Gambia’s Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, told Nieuwsblad: “We could all have died. We all fell asleep immediately. I agree. I experienced brief nightmares about how my life had been completed. Really, truly.

“After nine minutes, the pilot chose to return because there was no oxygen supply. Some gamers did not wake up until right after landing.”

“We almost got carbon monoxide poisoning. Another half hour of flying and we would all have been dead.”

Janko, 28, wrote on Instagram, “Unacceptable. After traveling 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.

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“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 conditioning would start once we were 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 or taking off.

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“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 had 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 it is only one of our obstacles on international duty.

“This is unacceptable, and as such, it has to cease with immediate effect.’

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In an interview with Nieuwsblad, coach Saintfiet stated that the squad must travel to Ivory Coast on Thursday or face being knocked out of the tournament. Their first match is against Senegal on Monday.

“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” he said.

“As if the only thing that 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.”

Gambia will face Cameroon and Guinea in Group C of the AFCON.

Janko, 28, spent some of his early career at Old Trafford and appeared once, in a 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons in 2014.

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A statement by the Gambian Football Federation 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 realized this and immediately requested to return to Banjul.

“Upon landing, preliminary investigations indicated that there was a loss of cabin pressure and oxygen.

“However, the technical team of the operating company of the flight, Air Cote d’Ivoire, is further assessing the situation to establish what caused the lack of oxygen and cabin pressure.

“In this regard, the team, including the players and staff, is now on their way to base at the Ocean Bay Hotel as they await further instructions.

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“It is important to note that every member of the delegation is safe and in sound health.”

It happened after the Gambia team refused to train on Tuesday over unpaid bonuses, which they claim are owed to them.

Fans during the open training session in Bakau were upset, but the issue was soon fixed.

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