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05.04.2006 General News

'Blackout' on SAA plane in Accra


South African Airways is investigating the circumstances on board an international flight, which a passenger described as "terrifying and chaotic", after technical difficulties kept them in Ghana for about 11 hours.

Flight SA208 from Washington to Johannesburg was approaching the apron at Accra Airport on Saturday for people to board, when, according to a Johannesburg passenger, the plane stopped dead on the runway and experienced a blackout.

"The captain announced they were experiencing an electrical problem. After sitting there for a while, the dim lights went out completely and we were left in total darkness and without any air conditioning," said the passenger.

After disembarking they waited in a room at the airport for some time. Then a SAA guard told them there was "a very, very big problem with the plane".

The passenger said he had also told them Accra Airport could not handle the problem and they would contact engineers in Johannesburg for help.

Passengers were later told overnight accommodation would be arranged, but after 11 hours at the airport they were told they could board the plane.

"Many passengers at first refused to get back on but were told they would have to wait a week for the next flight if they refused to board immediately," said the passenger.

"We all got very scared to get back on the plane. I was frantic and some people were also furious at the lack of communication from SAA.

SAA needs to know they didn't do their job properly. It felt like they were playing with our lives," said the passenger.

According to SAA spokesperson Jacqui O'Sullivan, the aircraft had experienced problems because its auxiliary power unit that operated while it was on the ground had not been working and its batteries had needed recharging. She said passengers had at no time been in danger.