Jet Fakes Distress to Catch Soccer Game

Pilots of a chartered jet carrying 289 Gambian soccer fans faked the need for an emergency landing in Peru so passengers could watch their nation's team play a key match, officials said Wednesday.

The plane, claiming to be low on fuel, landed Tuesday in Peru's northern coast city of Piura (search), where Gambia played Qatar in the FIFA Under-17 World Championships (search) later that night.

Emergency crews were scrambled ahead of the Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star's unscheduled landing. It was to have landed in the capital, Lima.

The fans were allowed to watch the soccer game in Piura, which Gambia won 3-1. The fans apparently would have been late or missed the game if the flight had first gone to its scheduled destination of Lima, 550 miles to the south.

"It truly was a scam," said Betty Maldonado, a spokeswoman for Peru's aviation authority, CORPAC (search). "They tricked the control tower, saying they were low on fuel."

Maldonado said the plane, owned by Air Rum (search), flew directly to Piura, entering Peruvian airspace "without permission," instead of approaching Lima. She said the flight was chartered by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (search).

The plane, passengers and crew remained in Piura on Wednesday while authorities determined what penalty, if any, to levy against the airline.

Gambian newspaper Daily Observer reported on its Web page Wednesday that the fans had been delayed for a week in a hotel in the small West African nation, making them late for the game in Peru.

Piura city spokesman Carlos Ordonez said the Gambians' presence caused a "sensation" in the city, which rolled out the red carpet for the African guests, offering performances by local folk singers and dancers.