Fear of Flying Report: OR Tambo

Before our flight to Mali, we were at the bar in our hotel in Sandton South Africa talking to a drunken air traffic controller who had just been fired for drinking on the job. He was a bit bitter about it, so he went into a long-winded yarn about all the accidents and incidents that had taken place at OR Tambo International Airport over the years. We listened and sucked on our beer and did shots of fermented fruit liquor…here are the unverified results of his ramblings.

He started all the way back in 1988 with a flight that exploded in mid air while on its final descent to the airport killing all seventeen passengers and crew. Although unconfirmed, authorities suspected a passenger of detonating an explosive device. Jumping ahead a decade, in 1999 a boeing 737 was damaged beyond repair by Armageddon-sized hail stones while on approach for landing, our buddy said he could count how many there were, they were so big and he successfully helped the aircraft to safely land without loss of life. He counted at least 150 hail stones.

In November of 2001 a single engine Cessna crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board. The aircraft did not have a valid certificate of airworthiness but somehow slipped through. Three years later, in April of 2004, an Emirates Airbus sustained serious damage when it failed to takeoff before the end of the runway. Taking out some 25 approach lights causing four tires to explode, ultimately damaging the flap drives. The aircraft made it into the air but returned for an emergency landing, but without the breaking system intact. The aircraft managed to stop only 250 meters from the end of the 3,400 meter runway by using revers thrusts and a backup braking system. South African investigators discovered that the captain used a faulty take-off technique.

The last account was delivered in slurs and stammers. In Spring of 2006, gunmen held up guards at the airport gates, while others armed with AK-47s held up police protecting a South African Airways jet and stole multiple bas of pound sterling notes flown in from Britain. In subsequent research it was reported that several airport security staff were implicated in the heist. It was unclear if our source was involved but at one point he murmured something about ‘getting a raw deal on that one.’

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