An Air Zimbabwe MA60 plane, flying from Harare to Bulawayo Friday, developed a mechanical fault mid-air and made an emergency U-turn to Harare International Airport, 20 minutes after takeoff.
It was not immediately clear how many passengers were on board Flight UM231K, but the plane has a capacity of 60 passengers. There were only a few empty seats on the aborted flight, according to sources.
Air Zimbabwe board chairman Jonathan Kadzura refused to comment on the matter, referring questions to the airline’s acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga.
The CEO, too, would not comment as his secretary, who took the calls on his mobile phone, said he was in meetings.
A pilot at the troubled airline confirmed the incident and said the plane had a problem with its window heating system.
“Yes, there was a turnback. Aeroplane windows are heated during flight to make them strong. The system was, however, malfunctioning in the heating system and there was a likelihood that the windows would (as a result) crack and/or explode, allowing air into the aeroplane,” said the pilot when contacted by NewsDay about an hour after the incident.
“The consequences would have been disastrous, so the pilot turned back 20 minutes into his flight and landed at Harare International Airport. The engineers are working on the plane right now.” The plane had left the Harare airport at 9am.
By lunchtime, engineers were still working on the plane although some passengers had left in frustration.
An affected passenger said the crew did not inform the passengers what the actual problem was although they extended an apology.
“We were not told what the problem was, but the captain announced that the plane had developed a fault and would make U-turn and head back to Harare.
When we reached the airport, we were told to disembark and go to the departure lounge where we would be briefed at 10.30am,” said a passenger.
“Way after 10.30am, we were told that engineers were still trying to identify the problem. Some of the passengers have already left in frustration, but quite a number of people are still waiting for the flight to take off.”
Some of those on the aborted flight had scheduled meetings in Bulawayo, and saw no reason to proceed after the lengthy delay.
The MA60 is a turboprop-powered airliner made by China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation.
The plane received its type certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in June 2000, but is not used commercially by most major airlines and has not been type-certified by the United States Federal Aviation Administration.
On May 7 this year, Merpati Nusantara Airlines Flight 8968 crashed into the sea only 500 metres from the runway in bad weather as it approached Kaimana Airport in Indonesia.
All passengers and crew were killed, making this the first reported fatal accident for the Xian MA60.
On November 3, 2009, an Air Zimbabwe MA60 plane hit five warthogs on take-off from Harare International Airport.
The take-off was successfully aborted, but the undercarriage collapsed, causing substantial damage to the aircraft.