Sparks fly as World Cup journalists` plane belly-flops

Johannesburg: A plane carrying journalists to a World Cup match made an emergency landing near Johannesburg, sending sparks flying as its belly flopped along the tarmac, an airport spokesman said.

All those on board the flight yesterday escaped unhurt, including a group working for the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network who were on their way to cover Algeria`s match against Slovenia.

Mike Christoph, operations manager at Lanseria airport, located to the northwest of Johannesburg, said that the pilot had to bring down his plane after experiencing problems with its undercarriage.

"After take-off, it realised that one of its undercarriage wheels was malfunctioning," Christoph told reporters.

"They spent about an hour in the air, circling the airport trying to resolve the problem, going through the normal procedures, and couldn`t get it right. So they elected to land without wheels on to the runway."

The chartered plane had been heading for the northern city of Polokwane where Slovenia eventually ran out 1-0 winners over Algeria.

Thembisa Fakude, executive director of Al-Jazeera for Southern Africa, confirmed that all the team who work for the network`s sports service escaped unharmed.

"They are all safe. None has been injured," he told reporters.

"Of course they were afraid, but now they are all fine."

Fakude said that some of them had found alternative transport to Polokwane where they managed to cover the match. Algeria are the only Arab team in the tournament and yesterday`s match was their opener.

The chartererd plane had 16 people onboard, including two crew, added Christoph.

Passengers left the aircraft through emergency exits after it came safely to a stop.

The aircraft had been removed from the runaway and airport operations were back to normal, said Christoph.

South African Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba said investigators had visited the scene of the emergency landing.

"They`ve been there, they`ve collected the data, and now we`ll continue with the investigation," he said.