The Gambia squad travelling to Ivory Coast for the forthcoming 2023 Africa Cup of Nations “could have died” from carbon monoxide poisoning on their plane, coach Tom Saintfiet has told the BBC.
The Air Cote d’Ivoire flight turned around just nine minutes after leaving the Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday because of a lack of oxygen in the plane, which prompted many of the delegation to fall asleep.
Saintfiet praised the quick thinking of the pilot for keeping his team safe.
“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,” Saintfiet told BBC Sport Africa.
“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.”
The incident came four months after the Gambian team, who will face defending champions Senegal, Cameroon and Guinea in Group C, were caught up in September’s devastating earthquake in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, when over 2,000 people died.
Despite the experience on board the aborted flight, The Gambia chose to train upon their return to Banjul on Wednesday night, even though some of the squad were unable to do so.
“Some players could not train because of what happened. They still have headaches and that is worrying, while some of the players are still dizzy,” added Saintfiet.
“The team requested to train as we had been travelling overnight from Saudi Arabia to return home on Sunday, and Monday as well.
“We trained in a bid to release the stress.”