There were chaotic scenes at the Harare International Airport Thursday after a safety drill was mistaken for a real plane crash.
Earlier, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) chief executive officer, David Chawota, had confirmed to journalists that a plane had been involved in an accident.
Anxious journalists from the local and international media rushed to the airport to cover the “crash”.
Some media houses were already running the story of the “crash” on their websites.
Emergency services reacted to the disaster calls swiftly with ambulances and fire engines swooping on the scene. Witnesses reported seeing several ambulances heading towards the airport. Four helicopters could be seen hovering above the scene of the “crash”.
However, it turned out that the “crash” was a hoax as it was a drill to test the preparedness of emergency services in the country.
Police Assistant Commissioner (Operations) Canaan Magumire said the incident was just a normal airport drill to see how emergency units reacted to accidents.
“What we had today was a normal drill to see how our units react to accidents. We normally do this every two years to check on the security agents, the police, army, prisons, hospitals and airforce on their state of preparedness in times of disaster,” he said.
“Today, the situation we had was a hijacking on a plane. We reacted to that and all units were being monitored on their reaction. So far I can say the exercise was a success.”
Soldiers, paramilitary police and security agents sealed off approaches to the airport and guarded the perimeter. Military helicopters hovered aloft as smoke rose from one runway. Reporters were not allowed in close proximity of the site.
At Harare’s Parirenyatwa Hospital, extra doctors and nurses were on hand and reportedly told patients in line at the emergency room that they were expecting casualties from the airport. The atmosphere at the hospital was tense as staff evidently believed it was a genuine emergency, witnesses said.
With recent reports of pigs being run over on the runway, many people were tempted to believe that the report of the crash was true.
Chawota said though there had been the risk of wild animals straying onto the tarmac the country’s airports were generally safe.
“All airports are safe in as far as animal incursions are concerned. Almost all airports in the country are in game parks and it is unfortunate we had two accidents happening close to each other, but that’s not reason for concern,” he said.
Chawota said the information was given to the media to make the drill realistic.
“Telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react,” he said.