A Boeing 727 aircraft carrying President J. A. Kufuor and his entourage from Sirte, Libya to Khartoum, Sudan last Saturday for the 6th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) made an emergency landing in the Libyan capital of Tripoli because of hydraulic failure.
The 25-member delegation including officials at the Presidency, security personnel and reporters went through scary moments immediately after take-off at the Sirte International Airport, when the undercarriage (tyres) failed to withdraw its compartment underneath.
Thirty minutes after the pilot had made several efforts to let the landing gear (undercarriage) respond to commands had failed, he was left with the only option of making an emergency landing at the nearest airport located in Tripoli, about 500 miles North West of Sirte, a four-and-half hour drive by road.
The aircraft was chartered from Malta to fly the President and his entourage from Accra last Friday to Sirte enroute to Khartoum.
The detour to Sirte was to afford the President the opportunity to hold discussions with the Libyan leader, Col Muamuar al-Qathafi on issues concerning the full integration of the African countries before the AU Summit.
Thirty minutes into the four-and-half hour flight to Khartoum, the air crew informed some members of the delegation that the flight had to be aborted as a result of technical difficulties which needed immediate attention at the nearest airport.
They said it had, therefore, been decided to make the flight to Tripoli for the technical problems to be rectified.
The crew cleared the aisle of any luggage as well as TV cameras and laptops, which had been kept by the reporters close to their seats as part of the preparations for emergency landing.
Thereafter the ladies who were serving snacks on the flight abandoned the service, returned to their seats, fastened their seat belts and tears began flowing down their cheeks. The weeping even frightened those passengers who sat near the tail of the aircraft.
“At least for once in my life l was scared,” Mr Akuamoah Boateng, a colleague from GTV , who was on the flight, told the Daily Graphic after the aircraft had landed safely.
In the scary moments, President Kufuor remained calm, swinging his legs occasionally. The old and apparently very experienced pilot, whose name was not immediately known, had to fly the aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea to discharge volumes of fuel to reduce the weight and the speed of the plane as well as maintain its balance before embarking on the emergency landing mission.
The Libyan Fire Service and Aviation Authority personnel, who had been informed of the technical difficulties of the plane, arranged as many as 13 fire tenders at the airport for any eventualities that might occur.
The pilot managed to land the aircraft on the tarmac of the Tripoli Airport without much danger, taxied to a point where it was towed to a safer place, where the technical problems could be examined more carefully and rectified.
“I was imagining how our funeral would be organised, the tributes that would be paid and the wreaths that would be laid,” Mr Kwabena Agyepong, Press Secretary to the President, commented after the presidential delegation had safely disembarked from the aircraft.
I was thinking of how l was going to die: to be crashed or flung or what,” Mr James Nadjie, outgoing Director of State Protocol remarked.
In the circumstance, the delegation had to spend Saturday night in Tripoli while arrangements were made for two new aircraft to fly the President and his delegation to Khartoum on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the President and his entourage had arrived in Khartoum for the AU Summit. Earlier in Sirte President Kufuor and his Libyan counterpart, Colonel Muammar al-Qathafi, held discussions on facilitating the process of integration of the continent.
The two leaders also reviewed the security situation in Africa with particular reference to developments in Cote d'Ivoire and the Sudan.
The meeting between President Kufuor and Colonel al-Qathafi was held behind closed doors.