Hell of a way to do it

How large scale exercises work in the UK: people are told in advance, policies are tested, and then everyone plays their part.

In Zimbabwe, however, they don’t seem to like doing things that way. In fact, they go entirely the other way.

There have been chaotic scenes at Zimbabwe’s Harare International Airport after a safety drill was mistaken for a real plane accident.

The BBC’s Brian Hungwe, at the airport, says he saw a large plume of smoke and helicopters over the runway.

Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority head had confirmed to reporters that a plane had been involved in an accident.

But an aviation spokeswoman later told the BBC it was a drill, and that distressed “relatives” were “actors”.

David Chawota, Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority head, then began fielding phone calls about the incident.

He told Reuters: “I can confirm there has been an accident, but I cannot give details right now. I am not at the site, but there are just injuries, no deaths.”

But at a press conference at the airport later, he said this was part of the plan.

“Telling the media was part of the exercise. We wanted to see how the media would react,” AP news agency quoted him as saying.

I’ve seen one or two little emergencies at airports – single microlights overturning, that sort of thing. But it would be hugely interesting to see how something like this would actually happen here – would we be taken in, would we see through it, what would we do? Also: how badly would the government / airport authority be hauled over the coals for spending money like that on actors and scaring the shit out of people, and denying the papers the big story the very big story they wanted?

Or, of course, it could be that there was actually an accident and Zimbabwe just doesn’t want to admit it. Just a thought…

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