On Sunday 28 September 2014 a family holiday ended in a nightmare when their family pet got out of his cage and ran onto the runway at OR Tambo International airport.
After spending a family fun weekend by the coast, Jacqui van Zyl and her two daughters flew back to Johannesburg from Durban . Together with 3 other flights their plane landed around 19h30. They disembarked the plane and could not wait with excitement to collect their little puppy Milo from the cargo hold. The baggage area was packed with travelers collecting their baggage from all 4 the planes that have just landed. Jacqui proceeded to the ‘large luggage’ counter to collect her puppy. The lady behind the counter was extremely busy and with her ear glued to the phone she mentioned to Jacqui “Apparently there is a dog on the runway”.
“I could not believe what I was hearing. The shock turned to horror when we realized this was our Milo that is now running for his life somewhere on the grounds of this massive international airport!”.
His crate had their flight number and with all necessary details on it, but it arrived with no dog in it. At this time Jacqui was still not 100% sure exactly had happened, but it looked like it had possibly been dropped. The cage lock is a twist-type mechanism. She was told that during turbulent flights these front metal cage screens could possibly pop open.
“It is for this reason that airport staff (and pet owners) are always advised to cable tie the door closed prior to sending their animals into cargo” says Jacqui.
“One would think that before the animal crates are taken off the plane, that the baggage handler would check first to see if the door is properly secured. I don’t believe they checked for this, as the cage was just taken off the plane and placed on the tarmac with the door being unlatched and this is when my Milo might have escaped from the cage. Nobody looked to see if he was ok or even in the cage.”
Jacqui would like to advise anyone travelling with their pets to not rely on the airport staff to cable tie the cage closed, for that extra bit of security. It’s best for you to secure the pet carrier yourself.
By the time Jacqui and her two daughters were sure that it was their little Milo that was missing, they were all in tears and did not know what to do. One hour turned to two hours, which eventually became 4 hours of panic and desperation to find their puppy before they leave the airport. A customer services person began to assist them, with phone calls to various parties, and everyone was trying to find out exactly who would be able to help them find their beloved little dog. It proved to be much more challenging than they thought. Not only is this a massive area for their dog to go missing in, but also due to it being an international airport, access to certain areas is restricted. The only way to get onto the tarmac to help go and find Milo is to obtain a permit from Airports Company South Africa (ACSA).
Around 23h30 Jacqui and her family were exhausted with ideas and means to try and find their dog. ACSA Staff assured her that the fire and rescue were looking for him and they will be in touch with the family as soon as they find him.
First thing on Monday morning, Jacqui got onto the phone with the airport to help her find her dog. Her main aim was to be able to get onto the airport grounds to go and call for Milo. This way he might just hear her voice and come running to her. Eventually she got a permit and got on to the tarmac at 14h00. They sent her with a 1 wildlife guy and a truck to drive around and see if they could find Milo. “The airport is massive and it was seemed impossible to find my puppy. There are just too many buildings and roads, I did not know where to start. I felt incredibly helpless and eventually left the airport empty handed around 18h30 on Monday night.”
I could not sleep that night and got up at 03h00 to start contacting as many people as I possibly could to help me in my mission to find my dog.
Jacqui went online to contact various entities such as Comair legal team, local radio stations and asked people to help her via Facebook and Twitter to assist her to put pressure on ACSA to help them find Milo.
Soon her phone began to ring and help was flowing in from all directions. This time when Jacqui went back to airport, everyone was much more organized and many more hands were willing to step in and help her.
ACSA had appointed a full team for the task on hand which included a sniffer dog, wildlife rescue and the fire brigade. Unfortunately the sniffer dog could not help much because it had rained the night before. Jacqui was allowed onto the tarmac for the second time and started to shout and calling for him. With luck on her side, 2 men were standing on a balcony nearby and pointed out to the dog. There was Milo, but now she was running across the runway. A dramatic chase pursued in and between planes taking off and landing, as the Wild Life Rescue team and the Fire Brigade tried to catch Milo. “In those 10-15 minutes it felt like a lifetime at the time” says Jacqui. Eventually they managed to catch him with a net.
Milo was safely back in her arms at 15h15 on Tuesday afternoon.
The first thing Jacqui did was give him a much needed bowl of water. He was excited to be home and ready for moms food again.