Gambian team feared death during flight incident on trip to Afcon, says coach

Gambia’s Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet reacts during their Africa Cup of Nations 2021 quarter-final against Cameroon. Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

The Gambian national team’s players and staff were “afraid of dying” during an incident on board a scheduled flight to the Ivory Coast for the Africa Cup of Nations which was forced to turn around, coach Tom Saintfiet said on Thursday.

Gambia’s plane, headed for Abidjan, had to change course and return to Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday just nine minutes into its journey.

The Gambian football federation said it was due to a “loss of cabin pressure and oxygen” but that everyone on board was “in sound health”.

The squad will instead fly to Ivorian capital Yamoussoukro on Thursday.

“We were afraid of dying, the whole team — for 30 minutes we saw ourselves dying,” Saintfiet told AFP by telephone.

“After yesterday’s experience, we are still a little afraid of travelling and have little headaches still too, but we want to leave, to finish preparing for the CAN.”

The flight incident capped a difficult preparation for the team, who boycotted their last training session before leaving for the tournament over a qualification bonus dispute.

The players had skipped training while demanding a bonus payment for qualifying for the tournament, local media reported, but the decision angered supporters who had come to watch the team in action.

Fans vandalised parts of the Independence Stadium in Bakau, not far from the capital Banjul.

Captain Omar Colley confirmed to local media on Wednesday that the bonuses had since been paid.


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