Behind Air Zimbabwe’s Flight UM462

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Putting it plainly, Zimbabwe is in a dreadful situation, and it’s airline hasn’t escaped this reality. On Sunday, 28th April, the tailpipe of the engine caught fire during take off – apparently due to a foreign object.

Reports of an “emergency landing” seem to have been dismissed by the official airliner. It was believed that emergency crews had been put on standby for Sunday evening, but they were never called into action.

Despite the initial panic that was caused by the whispers on social media, the pilots of Flight UM462 were able to land the plane safely without interrupting their journey. Airports Company of South Africa confirmed, the fire was “contained and extinguished” without any casualties.

The idea that a plane could continue a flight while part of it was ablaze proved hard to swallow for some. There was also confusion when another flight headed to Harare was mistaken for the fire-affected aircraft.

However, the Sunday incident appears to have been more serious than initially thought. Unconfirmed reports say engineers have had to replace the damaged engine, and flights are only due to resume on Thursday.

It all comes down to mismanagement, one former Air Zimbabwe pilot disclosed. He said the 20-something-year-old 767 is being overused on the airline’s short regional and domestic routes, when in fact it’s designed for long-haul flights with regular maintenance checks. He compared it to taking a fancy Mercedes-Benz limousine on trips to the rural areas.

Critics say the airline, which had a healthy stable of planes at independence but is now down to the stricken 767, is a potential death trap. That’s a name they also give to notoriously ill-equipped and poorly-stocked state hospitals, which are avoided by some top government officials who fly abroad for their own hospital treatment.

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