Auxilia Katongomara, Chronicle Reporter
PASSENGERS travelling aboard an Air Zimbabwe jet from Johannesburg to Harare on Sunday night had a heart-stopping experience as the plane’s left tail light caught fire.
The plane, a Boeing 767-200ER, landed safely at the Robert Mugabe International Airport.
The incident follows another mid-air scare after another Air Zimbabwe plane from Bulawayo to Harare hit birds on Friday evening resulting in sparks coming from the engine.
The plane was carrying mostly passengers travelling to Harare after the official opening of the Zimbabwe International Trade fair. It also landed safely at the Robert Mugabe International Airport.
In a short video taken from flight UM JNB/HRE, panicky passengers could be heard asking the crew and pilots to explain what was happening as they could see fire outside.
The video has since gone viral with people expressing concern over the safety of the national airliner.
Passengers said the fire started as soon as they left OR Tambo Airport in South Africa.
In a statement, Air Zimbabwe said the Boeing 767-200ER servicing flight UM (JNB/HRE) on 28 April 2019 experienced a malfunction on one of its engines resulting in a brief tail pipe fire.
“However, the malfunction did not threaten the continuation of the flight and safety of the crew and passengers on board and it landed safely in Harare at 2035hrs. Our engineers have commenced the requisite investigations and a report will be issued in due course,” read the statement.
The airline said the incident may result in a disruption of normal schedule.
“All passengers on affected flights please contact our reservations office or airport office for information on arrangements that have been made.
In an interview yesterday, Air Zimbabwe corporate affairs manager, Mr Tafadzwa Mazonde, said there was an ingestion of a foreign object resulting in an engine surge which caused the sparks.
“Engine surges are very common. They may have been violent for an ordinary flight but it’s normal in all airlines. The whole engine is intact. They were just sparks. Following an assessment of the incident and following mandatory procedures which are supposed to be done in case of such eventualities, the captain in command decided that the aircraft was fit to fly to Harare,” he said.
Mr Mazonde explained that if there was any eventuality, the pilot had to make a decision either to make an emergency landing or fly to base.
“Based on yesterday’s incident, a decision was made to fly to Harare because it was safe to do so,” he said.
Mr Mazonde said the plane has been taken to the hangar for inspection and checks to ascertain the extent of the damage but was expected to be back in service tomorrow.
He commended Captain Muzenda, who was in charge of the plane, for being calm and in control to ensure the safety of passengers on board.
Mr Mazonde said pilots undergo refresher and simulator courses and are taught how to contain such situations.
Air Zimbabwe, which has three serviceable aircraft, was left with one after the grounding of Mbuya Nehanda at the beginning of the year.
The remaining aircraft, the 767-200ER, also known as Chimanimani, is the only one servicing all domestic and regional flights raising concerns on the safety of passengers.