Air Zimbabwe says one of its planes spotted over Johannesburg with flames jutting from its left engine landed safely in Harare on Sunday night.

Air Zimbabwe could not confirm that the aircraft seen in videos posted on Twitter was theirs, but a spokesman said pilots of its aircraft, a Boeing 767-200, had reported a “tail pipe fire”. The incident is now under investigation.

Strange flying pattern … Flight UM303 reportedly requested emergency landing but pilots felt safe enough to continue with journey
The Boeing 767, with tail number Z-WPF, is Air Zimbabwe’s only functional plane with others grounded for major inspections which the airline is too broke to finance.

“Report received indicates that there was an engine surge and indeed there was a tail pipe fire but that did not compromise the safety of the flight, hence the captain proceeded to Harare. However, we now need to fully inspect and scan through the plane which may necessitate schedule disruptions,” the spokesman said in a short statement e-mailed to ZimLive.

The plane took off from Johannesburg at 6.55PM and landed in Harare at 8.35PM.

Pilots of flight UM303 had requested an emergency landing at OR Tambo International Airport shortly after take-off, Britain’s Sun newspaper reported.

Flight tracking websites showed the plane first taking off in the general direction of Harare, before circling back as if to make a landing. It did not land, however, as it picked up altitude in a second run following the original flight path.

The plane flew at a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet and did not appear to show any signs of distress for the rest of the flight.

The Air Zimbabwe spokesman said there were incidences where flames from the engines were considered normal, “like when the aircraft engines are realigning automatically.” But the airline admitted in this particular incident the flames appeared to be “abnormal”.

The same aircraft was last Friday involved in another incident on take-off from Bulawayo. Its left engine, which again appears to be the focus of this latest fire, was involved.

Lands Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos, who was one of dozens of passengers returning from the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, said they “experienced bird strikes to the left engine which caused a bit of a fireworks show.”

“We were visibly shaken as blowing sounds and sparks came from the affected engine on impact, but the pilot Captain Chiwara and his crew were true professionals. He waited a few minutes and then announced to us that we had hit several birds… but that he had assessed the situation and that the plane was safe and that we would continue our journey back to Harare,” Haritatos said after the incident.

The cash-strapped airline, despite its troubles, has a stellar safety record.

Air Zimbabwe, using its only functional aircraft, flies from Harare to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls daily. The plane then flies to Johannesburg before returning in the evening.