The Gambia squad travelling to Ivory Coast for the upcoming 2023 Africa Cup of Nations “could have died” during a flight that was aborted, coach Tom Saintfiet claimed.

The Air Cote d’Ivoire flight turned around just minutes after leaving the Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday.

Saintfiet believes there was a lack of oxygen, saying conditions prompted many of the delegation to fall asleep.

The coach praised quick thinking by the pilot for keeping his team safe.

Officials from the airline confirmed there had been a pressurisation issue.

Saintfiet told BBC Sport Africa: “The local crew said there was a problem with the air conditioning before we took off but that it would be all fine when we took off.

“After a few minutes, it was very hot in the plane.

“We all fell asleep because there was a lack of oxygen – some of the players couldn’t be woken up. The pilot noticed and we had to return.

“People got headaches and if the flight had gone on for another 30 minutes, the whole team would have died. The strange thing is that the oxygen masks didn’t come out – it’s good that the pilot realised that this was a deadly situation and so turned back.

“But we are still in shock.”

Air Cote d’Ivoire is the official airliner of Afcon 2023, and a statement from the company said the air crew decided to turn back because of a pressurisation problem.

It added that the issue could have been resolved by a mechanic on the ground, but that the flight was ultimately cancelled because of the impact earlier delays had on the crew’s working hours.

However The Scorpions were able to safely travelled to Ivory Coast on Thursday after a replacement plane was provided following the intervention of President Adama Barrow.


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