Zimbabwe: Hundreds Stranded in UK After Airliner Seized

SW Radio Africa (London)

Tererai Karimakwenda

14 December 2011

Elderly passengers in wheelchairs and families with children spent Tuesday night at Gatwick airport in London as Air Zimbabwe failed to secure the release of the plane that was seized Monday over unsettled debts.

This was the second night passengers had spent not knowing when they would fly out. On Monday night they had been put into hotels.

Tourists from as far away as Australia were among the estimated 200 people stranded without any alternative arrangements by Air Zimbabwe. The Gatwick airport press office said they had provided food, water and beds for about 50 to 60 people on Tuesday night.

The aircraft was due to be auctioned on Wednesday but according to reports Transport Minister Nicholas Goche said negotiations with their creditors were continuing and the auction would not go ahead.

Goche is quoted as saying the ministry was, “frantically looking for money” to pay the $1.2 million owed to American General Supplies, the aircraft spares company that impounded the Boeing 767-200 plane after getting a court order.

Zimbabwe’s treasury reportedly told management at the national airline that no funds were available to save the plane. The government owns majority shares at Air Zim and like other parastatals the airline has been riddled with mismanagement and corruption.

SW Radio Africa presenter Ezra Sibanda, who was one of the stranded passengers, spoke to a staff member from Air Zim who confirmed that the auction had been deferred. The source said plans had been made for the passengers to fly to Zimbabwe on Thursday afternoon but they would have to sleep at the airport again on Wednesday evening.

We were unable to reach the regional manager David Mwenga to comment. It is not clear whether the airline has secured enough funds to release the aircraft and Sibanda said people were now very tired and most have accepted that loud demands were producing no results.

Air Zimbabwe cancelled the flight from London at the very last minute Monday night, after allowing people to check in. Frustrated passengers spent Monday night in hotels around the airport. Several angry travelers were detained briefly by riot police as they demanded answers.

According to the Associated Press, another Air Zim plane was impounded for several hours last week in South Africa, over $500,000 that was owed to a ground handling firm.

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