At least 30 Air Zimbabwe passengers had a mid-air scare yesterday morning after one of the engines of a Boeing 737 plane they were flying in from Harare to Victoria Falls developed a mechanical fault minutes after take off.
The pilot was forced to make a U-turn 20 minutes after take off from the Harare International Airport and landed safely. No one was injured.
The passengers, who boarded the plane around 8am, were delayed for more than eight hours at the airport after landing.
They left around 3.30pm aboard an Embraer ERJ 145 Jet that the airline provided as a replacement.
Air Zimbabwe public relations executive Mrs Shingai Dhliwayo said all passengers and crew-members were safe.
"There was an air-turn back on the Harare-Victoria Falls flight this (yesterday) morning after the captain detected a technical fault," she said.
"The air-turn back was one of the safety decisions that had to be made."
Mrs Dhliwayo said the aircraft, through its systems, alerted the captain that there was a fault.
"When given warning signs, you have to respond and that is why we made a safety decision as one of our culture elements," she said. "Purely to us, it is a safety decision."
Mrs Dhliwayo said the plane was attended to by engineers after landing and was ready to fly again.
A source at the airport said the aircraft was forced to make a U-turn after one of its engines caught fire under unclear circumstances.
"All I know is that one of the engines of the aircraft caught fire, that is between 15 and 20 minutes after taking off, but it returned and landed safely on the domestic terminal," said the source.
In October last year, Air Zimbabwe sued the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe for over US$8,5 million for damages after its plane hit wild pigs on the runway three years earlier.
The incident occurred in November 2009 as the plane prepared to take off from the Harare International Airport, resulting in the flight from Harare to Bulawayo being cancelled.
None of the four-crew members on board was injured.
Despite such incidents, Air Zimbabwe's safety record remains intact as the national airline has not been involved in any major accident since independence in 1980.