Johannesburg - SAA intends to investigate circumstances that led to one of its pilots almost exposing himself at a Harare airport before deciding on a course of action.
Captain Wouter van Ginkel was detained and later charged with indecent exposure after he stripped to his underwear in frustration at being searched by officials at Harare International Airport on Tuesday morning.
Van Ginkel, who has been with SAA for 19 years, was going though the screening routine with cabin crew when the detectors beeped as he passed the X-ray screening gates.
He was ordered to remove his shoes, but the machine kept beeping.
Witnesses said he was then ordered to remove his belt, but a frustrated Van Ginkel took his pants off, too, remaining only in his underwear.
“After removing his shoes, there was something still beeping, so he was ordered to remove his belt,” said a witness.
“That certainly frustrated him as he proceeded to remove his trousers, remaining with only his underwear.”
SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said Van Ginkel was fined $20 (R215) before being released.
He added they “could not apologise enough” to the passengers who were inconvenienced by what happened.
“The detention was caused by the manner in which he conducted himself when going through the security checkpoint, where he had to go through a metal detector.
“We regret the incident and would like to apologise to our passengers and our stakeholders,” Tlali said.
The flight was delayed as officials were concerned the pilot might be mentally unstable.
David Chawota, general manager of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, said: “Captain Van Ginkel arrived at the X-ray gates and was told to remove his belt, and he went on to remove his trousers.
“When he was questioned, he said it was a mistake,” Chawota added.
Asked whether they had ever experienced a similar incident before, Chawota said: “This is news here.”
Tlali said they would investigate the matter “in order to fully understand the circumstances that led to the conduct complained of”.
“Once we have all the information, we will decide on what course of action to take.”
Zimbabwean police spokesman Paul Nyathi said: “We confirm we have arrested one person at Harare International Airport this morning (Tuesday) in connection with misconduct.
“He has been charged with criminal nuisance and has since deposited a fine.”
Flight SA 025, which was supposed to leave Harare at 7.20am, had already been delayed by 20 minutes after the aircraft arrived late on Monday evening.
The flight, meant to be a 90-minute journey from Harare to OR Tambo International Airport, arrived more than five hours late.
More than two-thirds of the passengers were routing via OR Tambo for connecting flights. - Independent Foreign Service