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Two hundred thirteen passengers in addition to the crew aboard Ethiopian flight ET815 were shocked but unharmed after a dramatic emergency landing at Arusha Municipal Airport in Tanzania.
According to reports, the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300ER, which originated from Addis Ababa, was supposed to land at Kilimanjaro International Airport and then travel on to Zanzibar, on Wednesday, December 18 but around 1:15 that afternoon, the aircraft, registered as ET-AQW, was directed to the Arusha airstrip, which is only 1,620 meters long, and too short for most B767s to land safely. So the plane was forced to land at Arusha airport but it ended up in a grass field after the crew attempted to turn the plane around.
Officials of Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) said that the flight could not land at KIA because another aircraft was stuck on the runway due to technical problems.
Arusha Regional Police Commissioner ACP Liberatus Sabas confirmed the emergency, saying the plane made a safe landing and that the passengers and crew were unharmed but in shock.
“The landing was rough as expected, we didn’t realize until we were on the ground that we had landed at the wrong airport. After stopping off the runway we were stuck on the airplane for about three hours until stairs arrived from Kilimanjaro Airport,” one passenger on board said.
Ground witnesses report that the crew managed to bring the aircraft to a full stop just before the end of the runway, but then attempted to maneuver the aircraft to travel back on the runway in the opposite direction, which is when the plane went off the paved surface.
In its statement Ethiopian Airlines said all passengers and crew were fine and transported to their intended destinations. Ethiopian apologized to its customers for the delay.
“ET regrets the delay during the disembarking process of ET 815 on 18 December 2013 and apologizes to all passengers on-board the flight for the inconveniences caused.”
Questions and speculations are running high as to why the flight was not diverted to a standard diversion international airport like Nairobi or Dar es Salaam with rumors suggesting that the incoming flight was short of fuel.
“The aircraft landed in Arusha by mistake, they were not supposed to land at Arusha and did not communicate with Arusha’s tower,” Arusha airport officials said.
Ethiopian Airlines, in a statement it posted on its official Facebook page, said fuel was not an issue.
“Such unfounded speculations are against international procedure and practice of incident investigation and communications,” the statement reads. “Although Ethiopian Airlines should strictly follow the international procedures and will not make pre-judgmental statements before the incident is fully investigated by relevant and competent authorities, there was miscommunication between the control tower and the flying crew, which resulted in [the plane] landing at Arusha airport. The aircraft had adequate fuel to fly to an approved alternate airport.”
It is a possibility that even if the airplane is stripped of equipment and seats, it will be not be able to safely take off from the airport, due to the runway’s short length.