Panic gripped Kahama airport in Tanzania's Shinyanga region on Monday morning over a private plane crash said to have killed at least 10 passengers in what turned out to be an accident drill.
The airport manager, Hamza Kiemo, issued an initial report saying the Garet 5Q ATM aircraft, travelling from Rwanda to Mozambique via Dar es Salaam with 42 passengers and crew on board, had tried to make an emergency landing at around 9 am but crashed and burst into flames a few metres from the runway.
Police, military and fire brigade personnel were seen mounting a rescue operation as residents of nearby areas milled around the crash site in a state of shock. Twenty-three people were reported injured, while nine escaped unhurt.
After the preliminary report went viral, Kahama District Commissioner Mboni Mhita released a statement describing the incident as a “planned drill” designed by the Tanzania Airport Authority (TAA) to measure preparedness for plane accidents at airports across the country.
“The truth of the matter is that no plane crash actually happened,” Ms Mhita said. “TAA conducts these drills every two years or so to check airport contingency set-ups for emergencies of any kind, and for the exercise to be authentic, a realistic scenario is necessary.”
She also confirmed that the airport manager's earlier report was part of the drill.
Tanzania is still reeling from its worst aviation accident in decades -- a Precision Air plane crashed in Lake Victoria, killing 19 people in November last year. The incident received widespread criticism for the lack of preparedness for such disasters.
In a report, Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), a state agency, highlighted factors including delays in mounting rescue operations and the absence of a control tower at Bukoba airport where the ATR 42-500 turboprop aircraft was aiming to land before it plunged into the lake just 500 metres away.
The AAIB was 24 hours later trashed by Works and Transport Minister Prof Makame Mbarawa, who said it should be “ignored because it did not come from authoritative government channels.”