Mass panic as Zimbabwean officials fake air crash

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Boeing 767, similar to the aircraft authorities reported was involved in the 'accident'
Image: Adrian Pingstone.

Today, Zimbabwean officials informed the media that an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 aircraft carrying 250 people had crashed at Harare International Airport, before they announced the reports were false and the incident had in fact been a drill to simulate the occurrence of such an event. Initial reports suggested that a flight from London had crashed upon landing at the airport. However, Medical Rescue International later stated in a post on Facebook that no airplane had crashed and it had "joined up with other services to attend to a mock accident at Harare International Airport ... Good to keep the practising up."

Those behind the staged accident had reportedly not told any other governmental departments, resulting in relatives inquiring with Air Zimbabwe as to what had happened. A senior figure for Air Zimbabwe stated that he was "concerned that this incident led to many, many calls to us. People were frightened. No actual plane was involved, but there was a scenario involving a Boeing 767 plane that had been hijacked and forced down at Harare airport."

It was reported that Peter Chikumba, chief of Air Zimbabwe, had also not been informed that the exercise was to take place, and that the airline had set up an emergency helpdesk to liaise with the families of victims. Alan McGuinness, a correspondent for Sky News, stated, "journalists who arrived at the airport saw smoke rising from a runway and were then taken to a room where they were told to wait. David Chawota, the head of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority, said the media was duped to make the drill more realistic." Chawota stated, "telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react," he said.

Chawota himself told BNO News that an airliner had crashed. Michael van Poppel, head of BNO News said that "while I first thought Chawota was just misinformed by others, although that would be odd since he is the CEO of the aviation authority, I was stunned to hear that he actually knew it was a drill and wanted to see the media's response ... This basically means he was lying to me when I spoke to him, but also to other reporters he spoke to ... I think it was absolutely irresponsible of this CEO and I can't imagine what the families of passengers travelling to Harare around that time must have gone through when they heard news reports that there had been an 'accident' at the airport."

McGuinness reported, "Stuart Sprake, general manager of FX Logistics, works at Harare airport and believed the secrecy surrounding the drill will help emergency crews learn valuable lessons." Sprake told reporters "they (the crews) had to find their way through crowds and traffic ... training exercises should be ad hoc — the less people know about it the better."



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