Mugabe leaves for Harare after aircraft alert


PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his party of 39 people flew from Shannon to Gatwick Airport yesterday afternoon in a special Boeing 767 aircraft after their overnight stay in Dromoland Castle, Co Clare. His journey home had been delayed by an emergency landing at Shannon.

The president spent most of the time with his wife Grace in their room overlooking the lake as all the luxury suites were already occupied. Breakfast and lunch were prepared in the Dromoland kitchens by the president's two private chefs who brought their own supply of food which they served in the room.

The president, although not troubled by the emergency landing at midnight, was, according to one of his officials, feeling the strain.

After his visit to Dublin where he delivered the keynote address at The Irish Times/Harvard University Colloquium on Monday at University College Dublin, it was planned that he would fly direct from Ireland to Harare. To do so the Boeing 707 Air Zimbabwe jet had to fly to Shannon to avail of the longer runway to take on board 20,000 gallons of fuel for the 10 1/2-hour flight to the Zimbabwean capital.

Shortly after take-off, a fire broke out in number three engine on the starboard side and the pilot radioed Shannon to prepare for an emergency landing. The crew then spent more than an hour circling the airport in an effort to burn off and dump some fuel to reduce the aircraft's weight. A further problem developed when the undercarriage failed to engage and a crew member had to climb below to hand-winch it down.

The pilot, however, made a perfect landing. There were a dozen fire engines from Shannon and Limerick and ambulances from Ennis, Limerick Regional Hospital and Shannon awaiting the landing.

Mr George Charamba, director of information for the Zimbabwean government, said: "We could see the fire in the engine but when the pilot shut it down the fire went out. I do not believe the president was upset although he could clearly see the glow in the night"

From Gatwick the presidential party was due to continue in a normal scheduled flight to Harare.

Before leaving, the president thanked Aer Rianta officials for their courtesy and said he hoped to return to Ireland in less dramatic fashion at a later date.