Investigation into Chuuk crash under way

The Air Niugini plane in the lagoon off Weno airport in Chuuk. Photo: Supplied via RNZ

PORT MORESBY/CHUUK,02 OCTOBER 2018 (POST COURIER) – Papua New Guinea Minister for Civil Aviation Alfred Manase says three countries are taking part in the investigation into the unfortunate plane incident of Boeing 373-800 aircraft last Friday at Chuuk Airport in the Federal State of Micronesia.

He said this during a press conference Monday that FSM (Federated States of Micronesia) is taking the lead in the investigation, and a team from PNG Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) has also being sent to the site to assist in the investigation, and also team from America where Boeing 373-800 was built.

Manase added that the AIC team arrived at the site on Saturday, eight in the morning, 22 hours after the incident, immediately assisting the FSM team.

“While a memorandum of understanding is yet to be signed, the AIC is joining with the FSM team in investigating this major aircraft incident in accordance with the terms of the draft MOU,” he said.

Manase said that the assistance is in accordance with ICAO Annex 13 Standards that allow the State of Registration of Aircraft to participate in the investigation.

Manase said Lukner Weilbacher, FMS Minister of Transport, Communication and Infrastructure welcomed the offer of assistance from the PNG AIC and requested assistance by the AIC throughout the investigation.

“The FMS investigator in-charge expressed appreciation for PNG’s rapid response and delegated the responsibility for the downloading, decoding and analyzing the data from the Flight Data and Cockpit Voice recorders and the quick Access recorder and any other recorded medium to the PNG AIC,” he said.

He said that FSM investigator will accompany the recorders to Port Moresby and will work with the AIC team both for investigation and training purposes.

Manase said AIC was informed that Boeing 373-800 landed in the Chuuk Lagoon about 160 meters short of Chuuk international Airports’ at runway 04.

“There were 12 crew members and 35 passengers on board, six passengers were seriously injured and one passenger is unaccounted for.”

He said a decision to retrieve the plane will be decided during the investigation, the flag carrier is currently lying 33 meters under the sea.

Manase said what has been published in social media on the circumstances involving the incident was fake and that all information should come from authorised body which is the AIC.

“We have protocol in place and for this case, FSM as the leading investigator will be providing information to the media on the update of the investigation, and no one else,” he said.

“It’s time to work and support each other, what is important for us is to to make sure this accident does to not occur again by taking proper measures and recommendations.”

Meanwhile, a US Navy rescue team waded through a half-submerged Air Niugini plane to pull survivors into an inflatable rescue boat after the jet crashed into a Micronesian lagoon.

Footage released by the Navy shows the team speeding towards the downed Boeing 737-800, which slammed into the water about 160 metres short of the runway at Chuuk International Airport on September 28.

The team had been in the area working on improving the wharf in Chuuk.

Lifejacket-clad men and women started emerging from the cabin soon after the small boat glided to a stop over one water-covered wing.

Someone from the jet told the team a man needed urgent help on the opposite side of the craft.

“There’s a badly injured guy on the other side,” one man said, relaying the message to another vessel approaching the sinking plane.

The Navy crew turned their attention to transferring the soaked passengers and crew to their boat.

The men compared headcounts of passengers and crew originally on the plane, and the number who boarded a host of small boats that also raced to the rescue.

The men spoke in urgent tones, after one warned the plane would soon be filled with jet fuel.

With the plane apparently cleared, the team returned to the boat.

“They got everybody,” a man said.

On Friday officials said seven people were taken to hospital after the crash, and said all 36 passengers and 11 crew had been accounted for.

However, on Saturday, Air Niugini said in a statement that it could not account for one male passenger.

The airline said it was working with local authorities to locate him.

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