Friday, February 10, 2012

Poor visibility grounds Kenya Airways as 145 passengers stranded at Lungi Airport

Some 145 passengers, 80 of whom were heading for Accra and 73 for Nairobi are presently stranded at the Freetown International Airport, Lungi as a result of hazy conditions which has severely affected visibility levels and has prevented Kenya Airways from landing and instead being presently grounded at the Roberts International Airport in neighbouring Liberia.
This has created an utter embarrassment for not only management of Kenya airways but equally passengers who have scheduled their travel since Tuesday.
Kenya Airway’s Country Manager for Sierra Leone and Liberia Robert Kipruto explained that there is a problem with visibility as a result of bad weather. He said in cognizance of international best practice, if any visibility falls below 8,000 meters or 8 kilometers a flight should not depart from the airport.
He said this warning is normally given by Air-Traffic Controllers together with the weather forecaster in situations of such natural phenomenon. He said that yesterday Kenya Airways came and circled over the Lungi Airport but was not given permission to land since visibility was too poor. As a result the flight opted for an alternate destination which happened to be the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia.
The Country Manager said on arrival in Liberia, the flight crew realized there was similar weather and even found it very difficult to land. He said at the moment 135 passengers are also stranded in Monrovia for which Kenya Airways management is mandated to take responsibility for accommodation and reprocessing of documents if the need arises.
Kipruto said the flight would have departed Monrovia yesterday Wednesday, but because the weather still remains the same, it is yet to take-off.
The Acting Director of the Department of Meteorology Alpha Bockarie said the cause for the change in weather is as a result of the hazy condition which is a suspended liquid and gaseous particle together with smoke in the atmosphere, and that it reduces visibility needed essentially by flights for landing and take-off.
He said the situation is not a new phenomenon but at times the intensity goes far above normal which is the case with the present weather condition. He said it is possible that it will clear after a few days. He said during his work at the Lungi airport 12 years ago, there was a time when the Malian and Sabena Airlines experienced similar problem.
Mr Bockarie said during that period the hazy condition lasted only for a day which is opposed to the present happening. However, he noted that the negative effect of this weather condition is not only limited to flights but humans themselves are susceptible to it. He said the gas emitted has substances that are deadly hazardous to one’s health.
Stranded passengers at Lungi are presently left in a pool of oblivion as to what the issue of the flight would be. They are left fending food, accommodation and other necessities after they were given breakfast lunch and dinner yesterday.
Joseph Cannon, a passenger heading for Accra-Ghana said “I am taking my parents (mother and sister) to Ghana for treatment but their situation is already becoming worrying as we are not told exactly when the flight would come.” He went on, “food is expensive here at least Le 40,000. Since breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday, we have been left on our own.” Cannon said.
Another passenger Andrew Ewoku going to Uganda said “some of us cannot afford to pay 40 dollars to go back to Freetown. We prefer staying here, just in case.” Andrew said they are receiving mixed information about the flight which means their travel is not certain. Andrew and many others who were couched in reclining chairs said “this is possibly where we would be sleeping until God knows when.”
As we went to press BMI and Air France flights had landed last evening at the Lungi Airport signalling a possible return to normality.