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Air Zimbabwe Passengers Remain Stranded at Gatwick as Carrier Scrambles

  • Gibbs Dube

The Associated Press reported that the Zimbabwean Transport ministry, airline management and American General Supplies, the US creditor firm, were continuing talks on settling the debt and releasing the plane

More than 200 Air Zimbabwe passengers remained stranded at Gatwick International Airport in London on Wednesday following the seizure of one of the carrier’s aircraft by an American aviation services company to which it owed money.

But sources said the airline might soon come up with the US$1.2 million due.

Transport Minister Nicholas Goche declined to comment. But the Associated Press reported that his ministry, airline management and American General Supplies, the US creditor firm, were continuing talks on settling the debt and releasing the plane.

Sources said funds have been lined up to pay for spare parts and maintenance equipment bought from the American company. Airline management declined to discuss the source of the funds after the government officially refused a bailout.

Stranded passengers said Air Zimbabwe refused to refund their tickets and only paid for one night’s accommodation at a local hotel Monday. The following night Gatwick Airport officials intervened and supplied the passengers with camp beds and blankets.

Zimbabwean radio personality Ezra Sibanda, among the passengers, said the situation was chaotic. "We have been camping at the airport without food and other basic necessities," he said before Air Zimbabwe booked passengers back into a hotel.

The chaos has not only affected those travelers stranded at Gatwick but family and friends waiting for their loved ones back in Zimbabwe.

Former Combined Harare Residents Association chairman Mike Davies told Violet Gonda his wife is one of those stuck at the London airport with little help from the airline.

The outraged Davies vowed that his family will never fly Air Zimbabwe again. He said the situation was "just pathetic" and made a "mockery" of the airline.

“I spoke to my wife and she said the spirit (at Gatwick) is quite good. The Gatwick staff commented how well behaved the Zimbabweans were ... She said, 'Yes, that is the problem with us Zimbabweans, we don’t cause trouble.'”

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