Kenya Airways OR Tambo

Photo: Flickr / Burmarrad Camenza

OR Tambo flight drama: “Accidental stowaway” forces plane to turn back

While many of us were celebrating the Springboks’ homecoming on Tuesday, a Kenya Airways flight from OR Tambo encountered a peculiar problem.

Kenya Airways OR Tambo

Photo: Flickr / Burmarrad Camenza

OR Tambo International Airport was the scene of abject jubilation on Tuesday, as the Springboks were given a rousing reception following their Rugby World Cup victory. But earlier in the day, a much more serious incident played out on the tarmac with a Kenya Airways flight – and it almost came with fatal consequences.

Kenya Airways flight sent back to OR Tambo

The plane, travelling from Johannesburg to Nairobi, completed its routine maintenance check shortly after midday. Everything was in position for a safe journey, as the plane hit the runway and began its ascent into the skies. However, it turns out, they were carrying a little extra weight – in the form of an aircraft technician who had become trapped on-board.

How did the technician end up on the flight?

The aircraft had made it into the northern reaches of Limpopo before the pilots realised something was wrong. According to a record of communication from the ground, technical staff told the crew of Flight KQ761 that they were missing an employee. Aviation Herald logged the incident on Tuesday evening:

“A Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8, registration 5Y-KZC performing flight KQ-761 from OR Tambo Airport (South Africa) to Nairobi (Kenya), was climbing out of Johannesburg when the crew was informed a maintenance engineer should have been left in Johannesburg.”

“While levelling off at FL310 the crew turned around and returned to Johannesburg for a safe landing on runway 03R about 30 minutes later. While the aircraft vacated the runway the crew reported ‘He’s here and conscious!’, the aircraft taxied to the apron to offload the engineer.”

Aviation Herald

OR Tambo flight forced to turn back

We’ve also discovered that passengers were delayed by an hour and 45 minutes from their original departure time, and they spent more than an hour on the ground waiting to take off for a second time after the engineer was located and taken for some precautionary medical checks.

However, the only details that have been made public only scratch the surface. There has been no factual account of how this technician actually managed to get himself “stowed-away” on board this flight. All we’ve been told by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is that there will be a statement issued on the matter in due course. Kenya Airways have also been silent on the subject.

It also hasn’t been revealed where exactly he was trapped, but speculation suggests he may have been locked in the cargo hold. With that part of the plane not being pressurised, the worker would’ve faced near-freezing temperatures and a lack of substantial oxygen. Fatalities may have been avoided, but questions still remain.