Coach Tom Saintfiet told AFP on Thursday that the Gambian national team’s players and staff were “afraid of dying” following an incident on board a planned aircraft to the Ivory Coast for the Africa Cup of Nations that was forced to turn around.
On Wednesday, a jet bound for Abidjan had to alter course and return to the Gambian city of Banjul after just nine minutes in the air.
According to the Gambian football organization, it was due to a “loss of cabin pressure and oxygen,” although everyone on board was “in good health.”
On Thursday, the team will instead travel to Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast.
“We were all afraid of dying, the whole team — for 30 minutes, we saw ourselves dying,” Saintfiet told AFP over the phone.
“After yesterday’s experience, we are still a little afraid of travelling and have little headaches still too, but we want to leave, to finish preparing for the CAN,” said the former Bangladeshi coach.
The aircraft incident culminated a rough preparation for the squad, who had boycotted their last training session before flying for the competition due to a disagreement about a qualifying prize.
According to local media, the players missed training in order to claim a bonus payment for qualifying for the tournament, but their choice enraged fans who had come to see the squad play.
Parts of the Independence Stadium in Bakau, not far from the capital Banjul, were vandalized by fans.
On Wednesday, Captain Omar Colley verified to local media that the incentives had been paid.