Sunday, May 28, 2006

Air Traffic Control
(snapshot of life in Senegal)

- A month later, Corman*, a graduate student temporarily joining our project, had been scheduled to fly back to the U.S. on a Friday sunrise flight via South Africa Airways. When I went to brew up some pre-breakfast Nescafe, I found him still there, pacing around the house with a perplexed and angry expression.

“What happened?”

Quite a tale, as it turned out. The following is a summary of the recap from a South Africa news site, with our interjections that didn’t quite make the international media.

Passengers on a South African Airways flight were stranded in Dakar, Senegal after their aircraft was damaged while in an airport parking bay, SAA said on Sunday. The SAA spokesman said flight 203 flying to New York from Johannesburg via Dakar was damaged by an Alitalia aircraft parked in a bay at the airport. No one was hurt in the incident, but the aircraft’s fuselage and rudder were damaged.

The guy on the runway had been waving the Alitalia flight in, and apparently did not see the large South African Airways jumbo jet taxiing nearby. (Perhaps it was temporarily invisible, like Wonder Woman’s plane.) This oversight continued until the wing of the Alitalia flight cut into the side of the South African plane.

Imagine the passengers looking out of the window on both planes.

“Um…excuse me…um, Mr. Pilot, pst – hey there…I think there’s something you should check out…”

The SAA flight had been due to land in New York on Sunday. The 180 passengers had been accommodated in a local hotel. They would continue their journey on Sunday
evening when another SAA flight to New York via Dakar would collect them. Some travelers due to travel on the flight from Johannesburg on Sunday night would be redirected on an SAA flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, United States, via Cape Town. There would be no flight from New York to Johannesburg on Sunday. There would be a flight on Monday and passengers due to fly on Sunday from New York would be split between Monday’s flight to Johannesburg via Dakar and the flight via Atlanta, then Cape Town, to Johannesburg.

This convoluted verbiage confused us all, particularly Corman, who thought he was getting a free trip to Cape Town.

During Corman’s three hour wait at the airport, he first consulted the airline ticket counters. All the staff had fled. He then went to the police booth, where he found the officer sleeping. Eventually, some kind soul put him in touch with the actual pilot, who himself had waited two hours for information and kindly gave him his personal cell phone number.

“We do not know the extent of the damage to the plane yet," the spokesman said. "We will only know this after our technicians have assessed the damage. SAA technicians would fly from Johannesburg to Dakar on Sunday to inspect the aircraft.”

Probable inspection conversation: “Hey, what do you think is wrong with the plane?”

“There appears to be a hole in it. It looks like a wing went through the side.”

“Thank God we have our team of technicians from Johannesburg here to check this out!”

(* a "nom-de-blog" for privacy purposes)

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