Chuuk residents praised for ‘awesome’ response to plane crash

Boaters on Weno island in Chuuk, in the Federated States of Micronesia respond to the crash of Air Niugini Flight 73 earlier this morning in Chuuk. All 46 people aboard are safe, said airport Manager Jimmy Emilio. Picture: Courtesy of Bill Davis through PACNEWS

CHUUK, 01 OCTOBER 2018 (MARIANAS VARIETY) – A passenger on the Air Niugini flight that crash-landed in the Chuuk lagoon Friday morning after over-shooting the runway praised the “awesome” response of local residents who quickly mobilised dozens of small boats to safely offload passengers and crew before the plane sank.

All 37 passengers and 11 crew survived the crash landing on the Boeing 737-800, according to local authorities.

The regularly scheduled flight that links Chuuk and Pohnpei in the north Pacific with Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea reportedly landed near the end of the runway and then shot off into the lagoon.

“It was surreal,” said Bill Jaynes, editor of the Pohnpei-based Kaselehlie Press newspaper that covers the Federated States of Micronesia, who was on the flight. In an interview with Bible Baptist Radio Station on Chuuk a few minutes after being discharged from the Chuuk hospital with little more than a gash on his forehead, Jaynes said, “I thought we landed hard until I looked over and saw a hole in the side of the plane and water coming in. I thought this is not the way it’s supposed to happen.”

Within minutes of the plane coming to a stop over 100 meters from the runway in the lagoon, local boat operators and rescue officials motored small boats to the plane to take passengers and crew off the downed plane.

Local residents said it was raining Friday morning when the plane came in for landing. Chuuk’s airport, like others in the north Pacific, is relatively short at 1,831 meters (6,006 feet). It is surrounded on three sides by water. The Chuuk lagoon was a famous World War II battle site and dozens of Japanese vessels and planes are on the lagoon floor, now a tourist attraction for scuba divers.

Jaynes said before he got off the plane through an emergency exit, water was waist high inside the aircraft. It sank after about an hour in the water.

“I was really impressed with the locals,” said Jaynes. “They immediately starting coming out in boats. They were awesome and I was really impressed. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) training has really paid off here.”

He said he believed there were some passengers with “pretty severe injuries” who were being treated at the hospital in Weno, capital of Chuuk, where the airport is located.

It is not the first time a plane has overshot the runway in the Micronesia area. In 2008, an Asia Pacific Airlines cargo Boeing 727 overran the runway, ending up with its nose landing gear in the lagoon water at the end of the 6,000 foot Pohnpei airport runway.

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