PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and his entourage spent an unscheduled two-and-a-half hours aboard an Air Zimbabwe jet from Rome after it failed to land at the Harare International Airport yesterday morning due to bad weather.
Mugabe was returning home from Italy where he witnessed the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II who were declared saints of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis I on Sunday.
The plane, which was scheduled to land at 6:30am, was forced to remain airborne owing to fog, which had engulfed the runway before being diverted to the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo where it made a brief stop-over before heading back to the capital.
Mugabe’s plane spent more than an hour circling above the Harare International Airport without making any attempt to land as visibility was extremely poor. The plane then undertook the 45-minute trip to Bulawayo adding to the taxing 14 hours 30 minute-flight from Rome and time spent circling the Harare International Airport.
The plane was also greeted by foggy conditions at the JMN International Airport and was forced to abort its first attempted landing and circle for some minutes before safely landing on the second attempt shortly after 8am.
After parking for about 45 minutes, the plane took off for Harare where it safely landed at 10am after the fog had cleared.
Had bad weather made the plane fail to land at JMN International Airport, the last option would have been the Victoria Falls International Airport, which is the only other airport with a runway that can accommodate big planes.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba (pictured), who was on board the flight, confirmed the ordeal yesterday.
“We were supposed to land at 6.30am but the airport was fogged and visibility was zero,” he said.
“Thirty minutes later it was 200 metres, but still not good to land and we continued circling in the air. We were then told that we needed another hour before we could land and that is when we decided to divert to Bulawayo.
“Bulawayo was also bad and we made the first attempt and failed, but landed on the second one. We were in Bulawayo for about 45 minutes before we resumed our journey to Harare and landed at 10 am.”
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe public relations manager Anna Julia Hungwe told Southern Eye that no other planes landed at Harare International Airport at that time.
“The plane failed to land because of fog. No other planes landed before 6:30am,” she said.
“This was the only plane which was supposed to land as it was an unscheduled flight. Scheduled planes don’t land at that hour.”
According to flight experts, it is impossible to safely land a plane at 200m visibility and a pilot needs at least 600m visibility to land safely.
But in aviation terms, general good visibility is 10km plus. They said it made sense for the plane to divert to Bulawayo because the minimum distance altitude a plane can fly above Harare International Airport is about 7 000 feet, but it burns more fuel at that height.