PASSENGERS on an Air France flight were asked to ''chip in'' to pay cash for a refuel after their aircraft was forced to land in the Syrian capital Damascus. The flight had been due to land in Beirut on Wednesday night but was diverted due to violent demonstrations near the airport in the Lebanese capital.
The captain first announced the plane would land in Amman in Jordan but due to lack of fuel he diverted to Syria, where rebels are fighting to oust the regime of the President, Bashar al-Assad.
Emergency permission was granted to land in Damascus. Once on the ground, the crew told the 174 passengers they were unable to use the Air France company credit card to refuel because of financial sanctions imposed on Syria by the West. They then asked for a whip around to pay for the thousands of litres of kerosene needed to reach Larnaca in Cyprus, the nearest safe airport.
A Lebanese passenger, May Bsat, told France Info: ''The pilot asked first-class passengers to give him cash … Everyone started rooting around for money and managed to raise $US17,000 ($16,570).
''But in the end the pilot took nothing, telling us that Air France had resolved the problem with the airport. Then they told us to take off our seat belts as there was a risk the plane could catch fire during refuelling and that we should run if told to.''
An Air France spokesman confirmed the passengers had been asked for money after landing in Damascus. The flight finally landed in Beirut on Thursday afternoon, 20 hours after take-off from Paris.