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Athletes passed out and 'could have died' when a plane full of pro soccer players lost cabin pressure and oxygen just after takeoff

Pete Syme   

Athletes passed out and 'could have died' when a plane full of pro soccer players lost cabin pressure and oxygen just after takeoff
  • A plane carrying an international soccer team was forced to turn back when it lost cabin pressure.
  • The tiny African state of Gambia's team was flying to the Africa Cup of Nations when the incident occurred.

A plane carrying a national soccer team had to make an emergency landing Wednesday due to an oxygen shortage on board, The Gambia Football Federation said in a statement.

The Gambia's soccer team was flying with Air Côte d'Ivoire for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which kicks off on Saturday, pitting the best international soccer teams in Africa against each other.

The Gambia, a country of less than three million people in western Africa, has only qualified for the tournament twice.

Nine minutes after taking off, the Bombardier Dash 8 had to return to Banjul, The Gambia's capital, after the passengers started to feel unwell.

Saidy Janko — who also plays for the reigning Swiss champions BSC Young Boys — said on Instagram: "The inhumane heat mixed with the occurring lack of oxygen left many people with strong headaches and extreme dizziness."

The Gambia team's coach, Tom Saintfiet, told the BBC he believed the squad "could have died."

"We all fell asleep because there was a lack of oxygen — some of the players couldn't be woken up," he added. "We want to fight and die for the country on the football pitch, but not off it."

In a statement, Air Côte d'Ivoire confirmed that the plane turned back "due to a pressurization problem."

The airline — which has flown several other African teams for the tournament as its official carrier — added that a mechanic could have fixed the problem when the flight landed.

But it couldn't take off again as the crew timed out because the soccer team had arrived four hours late at the airport, according to the airline.

The Gambia squad returned to their hotel before flying to the Ivory Coast on a different plane, an Airbus A319, the following day.

They play their first match of the tournament against Senegal, one of the favorites, on Monday.


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