- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Two planes filled with soccer fans headed for Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal between Spain and Germany were forced to turn back from Durban’s King Shaka airport because it was swamped by arrivals.

Three other planes were allowed to land, but the severe delays caused fans to miss at least the start of the match, airport operations director Bongani Maseko told The Associated Press.

Maseko said nearly 300 fans were on the planes diverted from the Durban airport, but more than 300 more were affected by the delays. He apologized to anyone who missed the game won by Spain 1-0.

Airport spokesman Colin Naidoo said smaller aircraft were allowed to land and disembark passengers before taking off again and “parking” at the old Durban International airport. Planes were each allotted a landing slot, but there were not enough slots for the aircraft that arrived.

“We did have some delays which were compounded by the fact we had air traffic congestion,” Naidoo said. “At a certain stage air traffic control decided to close arrivals to the airport.

“Some fans didn’t manage to get to the game because we had to turn those aircraft back.

“We had lots of air traffic from the two countries that are playing,” he added.

Delays caused by weather earlier in the day were compounded by the high number of aircraft trying to land, Maseko said.

“It means a lot to me that there were fans who might have flown from Germany or Spain with a World Cup ticket,” he said. “We are very mindful of that. Some fans certainly missed at least the start of the match. If you look at the numbers in the stadium it’s not a lot, but we would like to apologize for any inconvenience.”

King Shaka airport was built to replace the old Durban International and cope with the influx of visitors to the World Cup. The airport opened May 1.

Airports Company South Africa, the firm that runs King Shaka, said in March there would “certainly be teething problems” with the move from Durban International.

Naidoo said the switchover had been “very seamless” before Wednesday’s problems.

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