No deaths in Harare flight accident

Reports of a crash involving a London-departing Boeing jet led to worried calls to airlines today only for the incident to be later declared a practice drill.

Aviation officials told the media that a Boeing 767 travelling from London had been involved in an accident at Harare airport in Zimbabwe.

But later it transpired that the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority were merely testing their emergency procedures.

Before then, anxious people called the UK offices of Air Zimbabwe, which operates twice-a-week services between Gatwick airport and Harare.

"I am concerned that this incident led to many, many calls to us. People were frightened," said David Mwenga, the Air Zimbabwe Europe and USA general manager.

"No actual plane was involved, but there was a scenario involving a Boeing 767 plane that had been hijacked and forced down at Harare airport."

David Chawota, head of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority, said the accident information was given out to make the drill realistic.

He went on: "Telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react.

"In the event, the drill was a success because all our systems worked perfectly. Police, security and hospital staff reacted swiftly along with the media."

There are requirements on UK airports to regularly carry out emergency exercises.

Officials at Heathrow airport in west London had a major drill last December.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said today: "We planned about six months in advance and our exercise involved a plane crashing just off the airport site.

"We notified all local authorities' press offices and the emergency services as well as contacting the Highways Agency. No misinformation was put out."