More than 200 South Africans, who were on board a Qatar Airways flight from Doha Hamad International Airport and had been left stranded after the aircraft had to turn around on the runway on Tuesday, are finally on their way to South Africa.
The flight was delayed overnight owing to delays in securing appropriate quarantine facilities for its passengers.
According to Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele, the cause of the delay has since been sorted out and the plane would be boarding at 11:00 South African time (12:00 in Doha).
“Everything has been sorted out. When landing in South Africa, Health Department officials will board the plane to check their temperatures and do other assessments. Thereafter, the police and the Department of Transport will be on hand to ensure they are taken to the designated quarantine facilities. Now that the issue of quarantine facilities has been sorted out, Dirco does not foresee any further problems,” Ngqengelele told News24 on Wednesday morning.
The flight initially saw numerous delays after it was supposed to depart at 10:10 on Tuesday. By 15:00, it had not departed and eventually passengers were given clearance to embark just after 16:00, a passenger told News24.
Springbok hooker and World Cup gold medal winner Malcolm Marx was also stuck on the flight, OFM reported.
Passenger Clinton Collard had flown from Kuwait to Doha and arrived after 15:00 on Monday to take the repatriation flight.
He said according to documents from Dirco, which News24 has seen, the flight was confirmed.
Collard added before they could embark, things seemed to run smoothly as they were checked by medical staff. However, things took a turn for the worse when the plane taxied down the runway and they had to stay on board it for almost an hour.
He added the captain then informed them they had to turn around because the airline’s operations team had advised them it was unsafe to sit in the aircraft as it did not have permission to land in South Africa.
“It’s really boggling my mind if we have documents from Dirco that proves that there is permission for us to land, especially for these six repatriation flights and now all of a sudden we can’t land.
“I just got confirmation about the five remaining flights from Kuwait to Doha from Doha to Johannesburg have been cancelled. Nobody knows what is going on,” Collard said.
He added everything was confirmed on their side until the plane made a U-turn.
The communiqué, dated 2 May, from the South African Embassy in Doha, said it was pleased to announce after extensive engagements between it and Qatar Airways as well as the South African government, the airline would be repatriating many citizens who had been stranded from across the world.
Collard has been working in Kuwait for four years and decided to return back home to his wife and two children because of the pandemic which has resulted in his projects being halted and him receiving no income.
“A lot of people on this flight are in the same situation. Everybody lost their jobs, projects have stopped, contracts have been stopped, there is no more income and the people just want to get home to their families.”
On Wednesday morning, the mother of another passenger told News24 that her son had informed her that he and the other stranded passengers were preparing to board the aircraft and would be landing in South Africa on Wednesday evening. She confirmed that the reason given for the delay was that suitable quarantine facilities were not immediately available.