National | Opinion

Prof. Kwesi Yankah writes: The Kenya air scare

In the past two weeks, I have had considerable nausea bottled up in my chest cavity, and been looking for ways to vomit without breaking diplomatic protocols. The social media, however, came to my rescue this evening with breaking news on Kenya Airways, that now gives me the green light to spit transnational phlegm and be free.

What’s the news? According to Reuters News I just read, Kenya Airways, otherwise called The Pride of Africa, ‘has warned of potential flight disruptions over the Christmas period, due to a shortage of spare parts.’ Due to what? A shortage of spare parts. And why spare parts shortage at this time? ‘The Russian-Ukraine war,’ it was said.

Wheeew!!! Can’t help whistling on paper.

That’s not all. The Airline has also been in the eye witness news lately. I returned from a conference in Cape Town December 2, where Kenya Airways moved in and out of passenger nightmares. November 30, a flight from Johannesburg to Nairobi with Ugandan scholars on board, delayed its take off from the tarmac for more than two hours. Was the crew late in coming?  No. The reason? Fuel shortage.


The excuse could as well have been the Israel-Palestinian war!

But as the Joburg-Nairobi saga played out, there was something more traumatic brewing in the South African airspace. At the centre stage was once again the Pride of Africa, Kenya Airways.

Airborne on 30th November, human hearts were pounding on Flight KQ 783 Cape Town-Nairobi with a stop-over at Livingstone (Zambia). Rattling some 20,000 feet above ground was a flying death trap, a Boeing 737-800 plane carrying more than 150 passengers including six Ghanaian scholars: De-Valera Botchway, UCC; Mary Ayim-Segbefia of Unimac, FTI; Reggie Duah, Yvonne Agbetsoamedo of Legon; Oduro-Frimpong of Ashesi University, and yours truly,  Kwesi Yankah, returning home through Nairobi from the Cape Town conference.

Ten minutes after takeoff in Cape Town, a jingling sound, then a prolonged bodily rattle, followed by a sudden drop in  speed. I saw widening eyeballs among passengers. Momentarily it felt like the aircraft had frozen midair. Was the airborne plane at a standstill? Peeping through the moving clouds, the splendid sky view  of Cape Town started losing its grace, as dark clouds  began forming.

Then came this harrowing announcement from the pilot, his voice quivering. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have developed a systems fault caused by a faulty landing gear, and we have to return to Cape Town or the nearest available airport. Cabin crew please take note. We shall touch down in about 20 minutes after spilling aviation fuel in the ocean. Please stay calm, and sorry for the inconvenience.“

I looked around me and was not comforted. Nervous passengers looked over shoulders, preparing to brace for the worst. My colleague Ghanaian, Oduro on the aisle to my left was gone; fast asleep when the plane made a u turn, and discharged aviation fuel into the ocean, preparing for emergency landing at Cape Town. This was about 3 pm  Thursday 30th November 2023. We had hoped to reach Nairobi and then connect to Accra the next day.

A turbulent landing at Cape Town rattled the entire frame of the Boeing 737-800 plane throwing open some luggage compartments. The screechy sound and bumpy ground speed racked nerves and froze our countenance: we were in for a disaster. I turned and realized Oduro Frimpong’s  sound sleep had been curtailed. Jolted awake, he thought we had safely arrived in Nairobi, but I shocked him with the bitter truth: we were back to Cape Town due to mechanical issues. As we taxied on the tarmac, fire service trucks closed in on us, preparing to douse any flames from the impact.

Shaken to the core, we disembarked at the very gate we departed from, as we awaited further developments. Traumatized passengers thinned out gradually dispersing at the Gate for various reliefs. After three hours of waiting came a Kenya Airways announcement which we had prayed would be about a change of planes. We were wrong. The mechanical fault had been repaired by engineers, and we were to re-board same plane for Nairobi, said the public address. Hearts jumped.

Completely unnerved I called a meeting  of Ghanaian scholars on board  for reflection and mutual consolation. Soon, distressed passengers walked haltingly to a waiting bus, which conveyed us like tethered sheep, to the same Kenyan slaughter house.

Back on board, we fastened our seat belts and took off again at 9pm. But soon after, the familiar fatality symptoms started yet again as we attempted climbing  to  higher altitudes: same jingling, same rattling, same deceleration, same ominous signs. But there was one difference. My colleague Oduro, awake this time, reached for a 375 ml bottle of red wine, and gulped it down in seconds; that was  his ‘sign of the cross,’ just in case end times were near. 

A confused but clearly reckless pilot then repeated the self-same stress refrain: a repeat U-turn, repeat fuel spillage and repeat emergency landing in Cape Town. It would take 10 minutes this time,  he said. The trauma however assumed life-long dimensions.

Disembarking at Cape Town yet again, we thanked our stars, and three of us swore to put Kenya Airways perpetually behind us and immediately switch to another airline. The rest decided to accept a simple change of the aircraft. That of course meant spending an extra night in Cape Town, and negotiating alternative flights to Accra.

That has been my experience on this heartless Airline, that twice herded a large flock of  parents, guardians, wives, husbands, and children to the abattoir without blinking.

After my prolonged nausea the past fortnight, imagine how relieved I now feel having spewed my testimony about this airline that carries the fake banner, 'The Pride of Africa'.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.