Fake plane emergency lets Gambians see match
LIMA, Peru -- A plane carrying Gambian soccer fans to Peru made an unauthorized detour and faked a fuel emergency to land in time for the West African nation's game in a world youth tournament, officials said on Wednesday.
The Rum Air plane carrying 289 fans bypassed immigration formalities in Lima by landing in the northern city of Piura about two hours before the African youth champions kicked off against Qatar in the World Under-17 Championship on Tuesday.
The apparent emergency sparked a red alert in the coastal city with fire fighters and police racing to the airport and hospitals were told to prepare for an emergency.
"They faked an emergency to land in Piura. They were coming from Brazil and the should have landed in Lima first," Ramon Caminate, a tournament organiser in Piura, told Reuters.
Piura newspaper El Tiempo quoted one fan as saying Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh had chartered the plane.
Long Tambong Tamba, apparently a government official travelling on board, told reporters: "The president gave me the responsibility to lead the team (of fans) here."
A spokeswoman for CORPAC, the state body that runs Peru's airports, said the Tri-Star L1011 plane with 12 crew on board had raised the alarm, saying it did not have enough fuel to fly to Lima and would have to land in Piura instead.
CORPAC said it would issue a statement later on the incident. It was not immediately clear what penalties the airline could face.
Caminate said residents were astonished to see such a large plane. Piura's little airport is for domestic routes only and all international flights to Peru go to Lima.
Immigration officials checked documents in Piura and the fans went straight to the stadium to see their team beat Qatar 3-1 and qualify for the quarter-finals.
Some fans wore just tunics and trunks in the national colours of red, blue and green stripes separated by white bands, and had their faces painted.
The fans later took over five hotels in the small city while the plane was impounded at the airport.
Local prosecutor Carolina Neyra told reporters the stop in Piura was not authorised.
The final of the 16-nation tournament is on October 2 in Lima.