What was meant to be one of Sharmla Chetty’s regular business trips to the US turned into a hair-raising experience for her on Sunday night.
Chetty, who is from Johannesburg, was on board a SAA flight (SA209), from OR Tambo International Airport to Washington DC via Accra, Ghana when things went awry.
The flight was stopped in Ghana for refueling when a catering truck operated by SAA’s service provider hit the aircraft door, damaging it.
Flight SA209 was then delayed for several hours.
Throughout this period, Chetty said the plane’s captain kept passengers updated on what was happening.
She said the captain notified passengers that he would use his discretion before deciding whether they should disembark or continue with the journey.
They were eventually informed that the door had been fixed and would be making their way to Washington.
Fifteen minutes after take off, however, there was a technical problem in the cockpit and the crew decided to do an emergency landing rather than continue with their journey, according to Traveller24.
“We were about 15 minutes in the air but before this, I could smell [something], I thought it must be the air conditioner… I also thought we were not flying up enough (sic).
“I then heard the announcement [about an emergency landing] and there was smoke in the cockpit by the captain (sic). We saw a lot of the crew running down the passage. They were giving us instructions to brace and put our heads down,” Chetty said.
Throughout this time, she said she was terrified but had to stay strong as she was comforting an elderly woman who was seated next to her.
“I immediately thought about my family. You face death and you think about it and just think… I thought this is not a way that I want to die.
“It was very traumatic. I was holding the woman next to me, trying to calm her down. People were panicking, we were scared because we saw our lives in front of us.”
Chetty applauded the crew for being able to keep passengers calm and collected, adding that if that was not the case, they wouldn’t have lived to tell the story.
“It was amazing the way they handled the safety situation of landing us on the ground. I am grateful to that pilot and the crew of SAA because it immediately struck me that they must have been really highly skilled in being able to see the situation and reacting immediately to the emergency,” she said.
However, Chetty said it was a different story once the plane had landed in Accra. She said passengers were expected to have visas on their passports, which was not the case. She said they were stuck for quite some time while the next step was decided upon.
Eventually passengers were taken to a hotel, Chetty said.
“I am thankful that this incident was swiftly handled. It could be a very different story today, if the pilots of SAA and crew didn’t handle it the way they did,” Chetty said.
SAA confirmed in a statement that there was no correlation between the door incident and the technical issue in the cockpit. The airline also said there was no fire in the cockpit as reported on social media.
It added that the plane was still on the ground in Accra as technicians were still determining the cause of the cockpit issue.
Traveller24 reported that Canadian R&B star Deborah Cox was also on board the flight. She tweeted her disappointment of the airline, after her experience.
She later tweeted that she “landed in Washington safely”.