Air Zimbabwe plane catches fire

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A London-bound Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767, carrying over 90 passengers, burst into flames at Malawi’s Lilongwe International Airport Thursday when it aborted a take-off after the engine sucked in two birds, civil aviation and airline officials have confirmed.

“Yes we had an incident this morning involving an Air Zimbabwe plane,” Chief Aviation Officer Alfred Mtilatila told PANA. “But I don’t have much details since we are still investigating.”

Airport Commandant Paul Chikakula also confirmed the incident but also had scanty details.

Air Zimbabwe Europe and America regional Manager, David Mwenga, told PANA the pilot had to abandon take-off after it struck two birds.

“It had not reached what we call in aviation ‘decision time’ when it struck the two birds so the pilot had to abandon take-off,” he said.

The Boeing had 96 passengers when it left Harare International Airport Thursday morning, 85 of whom were London-bound.

Mwenga said it had 91 passengers bound for London-Gatwick when the incident occurred.

“No one was hurt, they are just in shock,” he said of the passengers aboard the plane. But eye-witnesses talked of “a near major disaster”.

An Air Malawi official, who could not be quoted by name because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said he was in an Air Malawi flight which was just landing when the incident happened.

“The Air Zim flight was taxing when it struck birds that entered the turbines. They had to apply emergency brakes for the (aborted) take-off; the impact of the emergency brakes sparked a fire,” he said.

A major disaster was averted because, according to the eye-witness, fire-fighting engines were immediately scrambled to the Boeing and managed to put of the flames before it spread. “But all (the) rear eight tyres had burst,” he said.

The passengers were immediately evacuated. The plane is currently grounded at Lilongwe International Airport, but Mwenga said he was in talks with Kenyan Airways to re-route some passengers through Heathrow. “We will take some back to Harare to board another plane,” he said.

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