ROSTOV-ON-DON — Saudi Arabia’s national soccer team landed safely in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday evening, after an apparent engine fire on the plane carrying the players to a World Cup match.
Russia’s aviation watchdog Rosaviatsia said that during the landing there was a brief fire on one of the engines and that it would investigate the incident, Interfax reported.
Social and Saudi media footage also appeared to show one of the engines catching fire and a spokesman for airline Rossiya said the fault was due to a bird strike.
The team were travelling on a Rossiya Airbus A319 from St Petersburg to Rostov-on-Don, where they are due to play their second Group A match against Uruguay on Wednesday.
As it came in to land, the plane “suffered a technical fault with one of its engines, with a bird getting caught seen as the preliminary cause,” a Rossiya airlines spokesman said in a statement.
“Nothing threatened the safety of the passengers. The aircraft’s landing took place in a routine fashion. No warning was sounded during the landing,” the airline statement said.
Videos shared on social media showed an aircraft that posters identified as the Saudi team’s plane with its wing on fire while it was in the air.
The footage, which Reuters was unable to verify independently, was shared by civil aviation monitoring website Airlive.net, which said the fire broke out on the approach to Rostov airport.
A video on the social media account of Saudi local paper Al Yaum showed flames issuing from under the plane’s starboard wing against the dark backdrop of the sky, with the wing glowing bright orange.
A photograph shared by state-owned Saudi television channel al-Ekhbariya, also taken from inside the plane, showed a flame shooting out from under the wing just as it was touching down on the landing strip.
The Saudi federation released photographs of the players smiling and looking calm as they boarded a bus for the Mercure Hotel in central Rostov.
“All the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines … and now they’re heading to their residence safely,” it said in a statement on Twitter.
The team, who are making their first appearance at the World Cup since 2006, suffered the biggest defeat in the tournament so far when they were thrashed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the opening game in Moscow on Thursday.
“I want to reassure you that we got to Rostov safely, it was a simple technical fault in the airplane but thank God we are now in the hotel and things are good,” Osama Hawsawi, captain of the Saudi team, said in a video shared on social media.
“The whole delegation is well,” midfielder Hattan Bahebri said in a video shared on the team’s official Twitter page.
“Of course, we were a bit frightened, but thank God,” he added, laughing.