The Gambia national team’s AFCON journey took a terrifying turn on Wednesday when their chartered plane was forced to make a dramatic U-turn back to Banjul just nine minutes into the flight. Team head coach Tom Saintfiet revealed a harrowing experience involving oxygen loss and potential tragedy.

“We all fell asleep because there was a lack of oxygen,” Saintfiet told the BBC. “Some of the players couldn’t be woken up. The pilot noticed and we had to return.”

The coach went on to disclose the alarming consequences had the flight continued. “People got headaches, and if the flight had gone on for another 30 minutes, the whole team would have died.”

The near-death experience understandably left the team shaken. Saintfiet and captain Omar Colley refused to reboard the same plane for the remainder of the journey to Ivory Coast. “We have been asked to fly on the same plane, but Captain Omar Colley and I have refused,” Saintfiet declared. “If we don’t get a different plane, we will return home and not go to Afcon.”

The Gambian Football Federation is currently scrambling to find an alternative aircraft, facing a critical decision between ensuring player safety and potentially missing the continent’s biggest football tournament.

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