Air Niugini Passengers return to Port Moresby on special flight
1 October, 2018, 7:35 pm
PORT MORESBY, 01 OCTOBER 2018 (POST COURIER) – Last Friday’s dramatic aircrash into the Chuuk lagoon involving our Boeing 737 had the nation riveted on social media as thousands followed the unfolding drama hundreds of kilometres north of PNG.
Our Boeing 737-800, flown by former military pilot and experienced Air Niugini captain Eddie Niggea from Fergusson Island, Milne Bay province went down in the ocean just short of the Weno airport runway in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia.
His co-pilot was an expatriate and their in-flight cabin crew were all Papua New Guinean. The crew and the last group of passengers returned to Port Moresby Sunday.
An earlier group arrived in PNG on Saturday. Four people who were seriously injured were flown to Guam for further treatment while two others were treated in Chuuk and released.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill praised the pilots for a miraculous landing and the crew for the professionalism in saving all lives onboard during the early morning drama in the tiny Pacific Islands nation.
Air Niugini chairman, Sir Kostas Constantinou said Air Niugini’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft P2-PXE, landed short of the runway citing ‘very poor visibility at the time due to bad weather’ as a contributing factor to the splashdown.
Sir Kostas said the aircraft came to rest in the water 145 metres from the runway.
Jimmy Emilio, the general manager of Chuuk Airport, told Reuters: “It was supposed to land but instead of landing it was 150 yards [450 feet] short and she went down.”
Survivor and local FSM newspaper publisher Bill Jaynes called it ‘surreal’ and said the plane came in too low.
Jaynes told local video blogger Matthew Colson on Weno: “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. My injury was a head injury but there was some pretty severe ones.
“We came in low, we came in very low, unfortunately the flight attendants panicked, and started yelling and uh, I was trying to be calm and help them as best as I could, I called my wife and she cried, I asked her why because I was talking to her, unfortunately my head injury, but there was some pretty severe ones.”
Chuuk is one of the island states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, which lie north of PNG.
The aircraft had flown from the main island of Pohnpei to Weno when it went down in rainy, wet conditions.
Sir Kostas said: “The 35 passengers and 12 crew were able to evacuate the aircraft, and local boats and some United States 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.”
Sir Kostas further praised captain Niggea 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.
“It was of great concern to learn yesterday that one of the passengers on the flight was, and still is, unaccounted for,” Sir Kostas said.
“Subsequently however, an inspection of the entire submerged cabin of the aircraft by the US Navy divers 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.”
Most of the passengers were returned to Port Moresby on a special Air Niugini Fokker 70 flight Saturday afternoon.
The 47 people on the plane included 35 passengers and 12 crew.
Most of the passengers were Micronesians and other nationalities on their way to Port Moresby to make connections to other destinations.
A video posted online showed the US navy divers approaching the plane.
The navy team diverts local boats to the other side to pick up the seriously injured passengers while a diver enters the plane to check on survivors to find that all have evacuated.
Meanwhile PNG’s air accident and investigations team is already in Chuuk to investigate the crash.
But as the nation awaits further updates, our million-dollar bird has become part of Chuuk maritime history.
Where it crashed is a lagoon famous for World War II ship wrecks. Among these rusting hulks now sits our famous Bird of Paradise!