A young female pilot flying a Victoria Falls-bound Air Zimbabwe passenger plane turned super heroine when she battled for about an hour to land the aircraft in bad weather.
Passengers gave Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros a standing ovation when she finally landed at the foggy Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo on Saturday morning.
A number of passengers told The Chronicle they feared for their lives when they were told the plane, coming from Harare enroute to Victoria Falls could not land in Bulawayo. They said they waited with bated breath as the plane aborted two landings and circled the airport in close to zero visibility.
The plane had flown into Bulawayo at 7.30AM but only touched the ground at 8.15AM after two futile attempts. Passengers, among them Rural Development, Preservation of Culture and Heritage Minister Abedinico Ncube and Zimpapers board chairperson Mr Delma Lupepe commended Captain Petros for displaying calm in the midst of “a storm.”
Said Mr Lupepe: “We arrived in Bulawayo at about 7.30AM and the plane had to circle in the air for about 45 minutes as landing was difficult due to bad weather. The pilot tried to land twice but it was a tricky situation and we only landed on the third attempt at about 8.15AM. It was a soft and good landing.”
He said soon after landing, Minister Ncube and other passengers gave Captain Petros a pat on the back as they were impressed with the manner in which she handled the flight.
A tourist who was on the plane also paid tribute to Captain Petros. “I don’t mean to sound sexist but she handled the plane better than most men. I’d said my last prayers up there,” said the tourist who declined to be named.
Captain Petros together with co-pilot Captain Chipo Matimba last year made history when they became the first women in Zimbabwe to captain an all-female flight crew and made high in the skies over Harare to Victoria Falls.
Air Zimbabwe’s assistant general manager responsible for passengers and cargo, Christopher Kwenda, was yesterday unreachable on his mobile for comment. This is the third time that an Air Zimbabwe plane from Harare to Bulawayo has failed to land at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport.
In January, an aircraft from Harare failed to land at the airport after it allegedly lost its navigator signal due to bad weather. It only managed to land safely after midday, leaving its passengers on connecting flights stranded while others cancelled their trips.
At one time the plane was forced to fly back to Harare because of the technical fault. In September last year, an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737 developed a mechanical fault just after takeoff from Harare.
Air Zimbabwe is facing a cocktail of problems, some of them a result of mismanagement and corruption which saw the company losing more than $11 million in an insurance scam but has an outstanding safety record.