Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Correspondent
SEVEN police officers were yesterday seriously injured when their vehicle veered off the road and overturned as they rushed to a mock plane crash scene at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo.
The accident occurred at about 11AM along Airport Road. It happened as panic reigned supreme in Bulawayo after the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s (CAAZ) reported a fake plane crash at about 9AM. This was part of a drill to ascertain disaster preparedness and responsiveness of emergency teams.
Emergency sirens rang as ambulance services and the fire brigade teams sped to the usually quiet airport, about 20km north of the Bulawayo city centre.
Among them was a group of police officers who were in a Land Rover Defender. Its driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle which veered off the road and overturned, throwing out the seven officers. The injured officers were rushed to Mpilo Central Hospital for treatment.
Acting Bulawayo police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Abednico Ncube could not immediately comment on the matter.
The story about the plane crash went viral on social media platforms, with some speculating that it was an Air Zimbabwe aircraft coming from Harare.
JMN International Airport manager Mr Passmore Dhewa confirmed the simulation exercise, saying it was important in the airport’s rankings as it is used to evaluate disaster preparedness.
“This is a basis even from the national and international perspective. We’ve auditors coming when we’ve airlines coming they take it up from there, seeing how safe is your aviation? We do these exercises regularly,” he said.
Mr Dhewa said in the exercise they invite the country’s emergency services who include the fire brigade, ambulance services and police.
He said the teams will be assessed based on the time they took to respond to the event.
“In fact we’ve up to seven and there’s a committee called ‘critique committee’ which is at the various points at hospitals, here at the crash scene and at any other point. So they’ve got members who’re filling what we call a critique form. After the exercise when we declare the exercise over they will come together to discuss, compile a report and we will meet to discuss the shortcomings, where we did well and how we can improve. They’re monitoring every agent that has responded,” he said.
He said part of the drill’s objective was to evaluate the media’s response and how it could efficiently spread information.
When a Chronicle news crew arrived at the airport there was thick smoke in the air, which a majority of people on social media took as confirmation that tragedy had struck.
This was followed by Mr Dhewa’s “confirmation” of the incident.
However, he denied the news crew access to the crash scene. “We’re reporting that there has been a crash at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport. An aircraft, a Boeing 747 from Kenneth Kaunda Airport carrying 60 passengers and six crew members has crashed at the end of runway 02 which is our second runway. We don’t have many details as of now as rescue operations are underway . . . ,” said Mr Dhewa.
The Chronicle news crew was one of the first teams to arrive at the airport, beating ambulance and fire brigade teams that arrived minutes later. —