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02.08.2004 General News

St. Louisans stranded in Ghana

By Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - A U.S. government shutdown of Ghana Airways has left more than 50 St. Louis residents stranded in the West African country, including travelers who are low on medicines and one who needs dialysis.

The U.S. Department of Transportation shut down the operation of Ghana Airways in the United States, citing serious safety concerns.

The airline had been operating in the United States without a license since mid-July. It ignored an order by U.S. inspectors and flew a jet that had been grounded because of corrosion, the Transportation Department said.

The airline is the only direct air link between the United States and West Africa.

A department spokesman said the move was unprecedented.

The 73-member St. Louis group, organized by Brentwood, Mo.-based travel agency Adventures in Africa, left here July 16 and was scheduled to return last week. Travelers included St. Louis radio personality Lizz Brown, who said in a telephone interview from her hotel in Accra, Ghana, that some travelers were running low on medicine and others were out of cash.

"People are saying they're trying to do something," Brown said. "Our government is saying catch as catch can."

The airline paid for 17 members of the group to catch an Egypt Air flight - via Cairo - that returned Friday. Some people stranded in the United States were getting flights routed through Ethiopia.

Transportation Department spokesman Robert Johnson said Sunday that Ghana Airways had procured two round-trip charter flights through World Airways scheduled Wednesday and Thursday. That move came only after U.S. pressure and lengthy negotiations, he said.

A Ghana Airways' Web site said the company "is making all efforts to airlift them with the least inconvenience."

"Right, now I don't know what is happening," a frantic Gifty Nutsutse, said in a telephone interview from her home in Jefferson City. Her husband, Benjamin, 37, had paid more than $1,600 for a flight from Baltimore/Washington International Airport to Ghana. Nutsutse was traveling to his homeland for his father's funeral, which was to take place Saturday.

Gifty Nutsutse said she hadn't heard from her husband since Friday. She said calls to the airline offices in New York and Baltimore went unanswered.

In Ghana, Brown's group still hadn't heard about the chartered flights coming this week. Brown had promoted the trip on her talk show, "The Morning Wake Up Call," on WGNU AM 920.

Many group members were staying in hotels without water. Others were in hotels that were flooded.

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