Gambia's soccer team makes emergency landing after plane loses oxygen

A plane carrying Gambia’s national soccer team made an emergency landing after a sudden loss of oxygen during their flight to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

A chartered flight Wednesday carrying the “Scorpions” returned to Gambia’s capital Banjul after being airborne for nine minutes when the crew realized there were technical problems, Gambia’s Football Federation said in a statement on Facebook.

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

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The operating company for the flight, Air Cote d’Ivoire, is further assessing the situation to establish what caused the lack of oxygen and cabin pressure, it said.

The players were on their way to compete in the Africa Cup in Ivory Coast, which begins Saturday. This is the 34th edition of the biennial tournament, which was supposed to be played in June and July last year but was postponed to avoid Ivory Coast’s tropical rainy season.

Gambian soccer team

The Gambia national soccer team is photographed aboard a plane in Banjul, the Gambia, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Gambia Football Federation via AP)

Gambia’s Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet, who was on the plane told local Belgian network VRT that the team narrowly escaped death.

“We were all getting carbon monoxide poisoning. Some players also did not wake up immediately after landing,” he said.

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

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The team is expected to take another flight to Ivory Coast on Thursday afternoon and travel to the city of Yamoussoukro where some of the games are taking place, the federation said.

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