Air Zim plays down embarassing ‘sewage’ incident

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Zimbabwe’s embattled national airline has said that it wasn’t raw effluent that was photographed running down the aisle of one of its planes at the weekend.

The embarrassing incident happened on a Sunday morning flight between Harare and Johannesburg.

A passenger on the flight snapped a picture of the water – which admittedly looked very much like raw sewage – flowing down the carpeted aisle, with another passenger clearly keeping his sandalled foot well out of the way.

The passenger, identified as Kene Esom by Zimbabwe’s privately-owned Newsday paper, was quoted as saying: “Rather than make an announcement explaining what was happening to bewildered passengers, the crew was upset that I was taking pictures.”

“They threatened to hand me over to security operatives for trying to embarrass the airline,” he said.

The plane is understood to have been carrying some non-Zimbabwean delegates who had been attending a international conference on HIV Aids and STIs, making the incident even more embarrassing for the airline.

‘Minor fault’

In a statement on Wednesday, Air Zimbabwe spokesperson Shingai Dhliwayo said the incident was the result of a “minor fault” and claimed it was technically impossible for raw sewage to enter the cabin.

“Water overflowed from the handwash basin and overflowed onto the lavatory floor and subsequently into the cabin aisle during descent into Johannesburg,” Dhliwayo said in the statement, which was seen by News24.

She said the water only looked like sewage in the photograph because of a “light glare”.

“The online reports which suggest that [sewage]was flowing into the cabin are not true because it is technically impossible for [sewage]to flow back as the B767 aircraft uses a vacuum source to a collector tank,” she added.

“At no time during the flight was the safety and health of the passengers and our crew compromised,” Dhliwayo added.

Air Zimbabwe has been battling for years to remain viable and faces an added challenge in the recent entry of low-budget airlines on the Johannesburg to Harare route.

Earlier this year, company secretary Grace Pfumbidzayi and former CEO Peter Chikumba spent five months in jail on a fraud conviction.