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Passenger disappears after Air Niugini jet lands in sea

October 2, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An Air Niugini B737-800 jet carrying 47 people landed in the sea just short of the runway on Friday – and initial relief that everyone aboard had survived later gave way to confusion when it turned out one of the passengers had disappeared.

Later reports said that the missing man survived and made off across the lagoon in a local dinghy.

Local authorities were hunting for him at the weekend, but then, on Monday, several news outlets quoted Air Niugini chief executive Tahawar Durrani saying the man’s body had been found by divers in the lagoon. The airline has not identified the man or released his nationality.

“Our outreach team is in touch with the man’s family and we are making arrangements to repatriate his body,” Durrani said in a statement.

The plane plunged into the lagoon while trying to land at the international airport on Weno, the main island of Chuuk state in Micronesia. Local fishermen arrived on the scene within minutes in a flotilla of small motorboats and began a rescue operation in conjunction with US Navy divers, which worked wonderfully.

Bill Jaynes, managing editor of a Micronesia-based newspaper, was on the plane when it hit the water.

“It’s just surreal. I thought we landed hard until I looked over and saw a hole in the side of the plane and water was coming in, and I thought, well, this is not, like, the way it’s supposed to happen,” he said in a video posted to Facebook.

Jaynes said the plane came in “very low” and at least one flight attendant panicked. He said people on the plane waded through seawater up to their waists as they floundered through an emergency exit – where the found fishing boats ready to pick them up.

It is still unclear what caused the crash. The airline said it had received reports that “the weather was very poor with heavy rain and reduced visibility at the time of incident”.

Passengers and crew were taken to the hospital for checks. According to the Aviation Herald, the local hospital reported it had received eight patients, four with serious and four with minor injuries. There were no fatalities. Four patients will need to be flown out for treatment of head injuries, spinal cord injuries and hip fractures.

Then it was found a man had disappeared.

Amazing footage below of US Navy rescue boats approaching plane in the sea.

The airline issued the following statement (before the body of the missing passenger was recovered):

AIR NIUGINI FLIGHT LANDS IN LAGOON IN CHUUK, FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA (FSM)

Chairman of Air Niugini, Sir Kostas Constantinou, OBE has expressed great relief following the safe evacuation of passengers and crew on board Air Niugini’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft P2-PXE, which landed short of the runway and on a lagoon on Friday 28th September in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia. Early reports indicate very poor visibility at the time due to bad weather, and the aircraft came to rest in the water 145 metres from the runway.

Sir Kostas said “The 35 passengers and 12 crew were able to evacuate the aircraft, and local boats and some United States (US) Navy divers were close to the scene and came quickly to the rescue before the aircraft sank. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the aircrew of P2-PXE, the US Navy, and to the many Micronesians who came to the rescue of the passengers and crew so quickly”.

The Chairman further praised the Captain and crew of Flight PX73 for their skills, dedication and commitment in ensuring that the passengers were able to exit the aircraft in a fast and safe manner. Passengers and crew were taken to hospital for checks and some have non-life threatening injuries.

Sir Kostas said that in the circumstances, this was about as good an outcome as one could expect.

Sir Kostas thanked hospital staff and all who came to the rescue and comfort of the passengers after their ordeal. He continued, “it was a team effort of many people working together with a common goal, and it is heartening to see the combined effort of the human spirit in situations like this”.

“It was of great concern to learn yesterday that one of the passengers on the flight was, and still is, unaccounted for” Sir Kostas continued, “subsequently however, an inspection of the entire submerged cabin of the aircraft by the US Navy seals, further corroborated by other eye witness reports who saw the passenger board one of the dinghies on Friday, has confirmed that all passengers safely evacuated the aircraft at the time of the accident. Local authorities and the airline are continuing to search for the whereabouts of the missing passenger”.

Most of the passengers were returned to Port Moresby on a special Air Niugini Fokker 70 flight yesterday afternoon, Saturday 29th September, where they are being cared for by Air Niugini staff and the various Consular representatives and officials, until they are ready to board onward flights to their respective final destinations. Many of these passengers have already started leaving Port Moresby today.

A further two passengers who were initially hospitalized were able to return to Port Moresby this morning, Sunday 30th September, and are being similarly assisted. Four other passengers remain hospitalized in Chuuk, however their condition has now stabilized and they will be transported to Guam very shortly for further treatment.

Sir Kostas continued “the Acting CEO, his executive team and the entire staff of Air Niugini acted throughout with calm and professionalism from the airline’s Port Moresby base. They had the situation monitored and under control the whole time”.

A thorough investigation by the responsible authorities and the airline has already commenced to determine the cause of the accident.

“Our focus now is to care for all the passengers and crew involved, and we will continue to provide support and assistance to them over the coming weeks. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of them, together with their families and friends”, Sir Kostas concluded.

Ends…..

We will provide update as information becomes available.

Following are the media call centre numbers;

PNG Media Call Centre: (675) 327 3378/ 327 3221

International Media Call Centre: +1 407 205 1814

Email: mcc2@kenyoninternational.com

Written by Peter Needham

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