HARARE - A South African Airways (SAA) pilot, only identified as W Van Ginkel, was today arrested at Harare International Airport for stripping down to his underwear in protest at being thoroughly searched by airport security officials.
As a result, 90 passengers who were due to travel on the morning flight to Johannesburg were left stranded following the bizarre incident that left cabin crew, passengers and airport workers shell-shocked.
The shocking stripping down to his underwear by the pilot took place early in the morning as the cabin crew went through the screening routine at the country’s biggest airport. He was charged with nuisance and was fined before being released.
National police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said: “We confirm we have arrested one person at Harare International Airport this morning in connection with misconduct. He has been charged with criminal nuisance and has since deposited a fine.”
Flight SA 025, that was supposed to leave Harare at 0720hrs, had already been delayed by 20 minutes due to civil aviation regulations after the aircraft arrived late on Monday evening.
People who witnessed the sensational incident said when the Van Ginkel, who was leading the crew, passed the x-ray screening gates, the detectors beeped and he was ordered to remove his shoes.
“After removing his shoes, there was something still beeping so he was ordered to remove his belt," said a witness. "That certainly frustrated him as he proceeded to remove his trousers, remaining with only his underwear.”
Officials from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ)—which provides airport security and secure safe air navigation—called in the police, who detained the pilot at Harare International Police Post.
David Chawota, CAAZ general manager, confirmed the incident. He said passengers eventually managed to proceed with their journey after the delay.
“Yes the incident indeed happened," Chawota said. "Captain Van Ginkel arrived at the x-ray gates and was told to remove his belt and he went on to remove his trousers. When he was questioned, he said it was a mistake. The passengers however departed Harare in the afternoon without him. The matter is now with the police.”
Asked whether they had ever experienced a similar incident before, Chawota said, “Izvi zvinyowani izvi (this is new here).”
Sources said the flight had to be cancelled amid concerns from CAAZ that the pilot no longer was of stable mind and could not manage the flight.
SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the organisation will investigate circumstances surrounding the mishap.
“We regret the incident and would like to apologise to our passengers and our stakeholders at large," Tlali said. "This is a matter which the airline will investigate in order to fully understand the circumstances that led to the detention of our crew member. Once we have all the information, we will decide on what action to take. We cannot apologise enough to our passengers for the inconvenience caused by the late departure of SA 025 from Harare to Johannesburg.”
As a result, the 90 passengers had to wait for more than five hours as another crew was dispatched from Johannesburg. It arrived on the 12 noon flight.
Flying from Harare to Johannesburg takes up to 1hr 30 minutes and the incident inconvenienced about 64 passengers, some of them who intended to connect to international destinations at Oliver Tambo International Airport.