Liberia: ‘Such Experience Had My Heart in My Mouth’ – Passenger Onboard SN Brussels Narrates Petrifying Experience at RIA  


MONROVIA – Experiencing the sudden abortion of landing by a flight almost hitting a dark runway was the “most horrific, terrifying and nerve-racking” incident ever faced by Sweetie Sharpe who was onboard Brussels SN2608 which had to hover over Liberian airspace several times before rerouting to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The flight aborted the landing after descending on the Roberts International Airport and suddenly discovered that the runway was dark – something that could have put the lives of passengers on board in severe danger.

Narrating her experience, Sweetie Sharpe who recorded a video of the pilot announcing why the plane could not land and shared it on social media recalled that the after the landing was aborted, the plane hovered in the air for nearly 30 minutes before deciding to land in Freetown due as it was running low on jet fuel.

“Nearly a few seconds into landing the pilot realized there was no electricity on the runway making such landing impossible! For at least 30 minutes we hovered around the city hoping the electricity will come back or at least communicate with someone at ROB Airport. At which, we had no luck..everyone on board including myself panicked and became very afraid. No light, no communication from ROB staff absolutely, no answer…,” she recalled.

She added, “Such experience had my heart in my mouth, very scared, scary enough considering all of the other factors that come when flying. The idea of experiencing extreme turbulence is terrifying, and the idea of crashing is even more fearful. My experience was just an absolute nightmare!”

In the video recorded by Ms. Sharpe, the pilot is heard announcing “I would like to inform you that the airport in Monrovia is closed and there is no electricity at the moment. They’re trying to fix it, but we have some fuel to do a few miles; but until now, we don’t have any contact at the airport of Monrovia so we have decided to go back to Freetown. In Freetown, we will see if we can take some fuel and what the decision would be next…”

RIA: Technical Glitch, Not Blackout

Airport authorities on Wednesday night blamed the unfortunate incident on the airport crew responsible for lighting at the airport and vowed to take punitive actions against those responsible.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Liberia Airport Authority denied that the airport was of electricity at the time SN Brussels attempted landing, but said there was a “technical glitch”. According to the airport management, the issue was resolved in record time.

RIA Management: “At no time, during or before this technical occurrence, was there a power outage at the Roberts International Airport, nor was the airport ever closed. The approach control was in communication with the Aircraft at all times until they made the decision to divert.

“Management reassures all airport users that we are committed to ensuring their safety.”

At the same time, the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA), the regulatory body for the aviation sector, in a statement expressed concern over the incident involving SN Brussels.

“We are grateful that the plane safely landed at the RIA that night, following several frantic efforts by the Liberia Airport Authority and the Roberts International Airport Management,” the LCAA stated.

According to the LCAA, its technical team is working on preventive measures with the Liberia Airport Authority to ensure that there is no future occurrence.

“As a regulatory body, we can assure the public that we will conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the situation in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s standards,” the LCAA stated.

This is the second time in three months a descending plane has been forced to abort landing due to dark runway at the RIA. In February, Royal Air Maroc was forced to also divert its landing to Freetown due to the same reason.

So far, only SN Brussels and Air France are flying directly from Europe to Monrovia. However, Air France is expected to make its last trip to Liberia on April 30. The airlines said, the cancellation of flights to Monrovia is due to the inviability of the market here and the crisis in Mali. Air France resumed its flights to Monrovia in 2020.

“Based on the economic performance, the current geopolitical situation and the Air France-KLM’s overall plan to restore its profitability, Air France has decided to suspend its flights to Monrovia, Liberia, as of the end of April 2022. Customers already booked on flights after the end of April, will be informed individually. The customers concerned can change their travel plans or cancel the trip and request a refund. Air France would like to thank the government of Liberia and the airport authorities for their continued support in the operation of this route” Air France stated in the statement issued.

Dark Airport Embarrassment

It can be recalled that during the funeral ceremony of Dr. Amos Sawyer, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she had expected more dignitaries who had called her to be present at the funeral. “Maybe the airport was too dark,” she said.

On March 28, President Weah and other government officials were greeted with darkness upon their arrival at the RIA from the United Arab Emirates where they had gone to participate in the EXPO Dubai 2020.

A day later, travelers were again compelled to use the torch of their respective phones to provide light in the terminals at the airport. A video that went viral on social media, showed the travelers complaining and expressing serious frustration over the disgraceful situation while awaiting their respective flights for departure along with their luggage.

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