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Hong Kong aviation

China Eastern plane slides off runway after landing at Hong Kong International Airport in downpour

Aircraft arriving from Nanjing veered off tarmac and came to stop on grass, closing north runway for almost two hours; bad weather affected about 700 flights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 11:40pm

A China Eastern Airlines plane carrying 141 passengers and crew slid off the runway at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday as torrential downpours lashed the city, triggering the first black rainstorm warning signal of the year.

Heavy rain flooded roads, felled trees, disrupted traffic and forced schools to close, while about 700 flights to and from the city were delayed or cancelled.

The Observatory said three warnings were issued within about eight hours, as more than 100 millimetres of rainfall was recorded in most parts of the city. At 6.40am, the amber rainstorm warning signal was issued. This was upgraded to red at 9.15am and to black, the highest level, at 11.30am. All the signals were lowered at 3pm as the rain eased off.

The Airport Authority said flight MU765 from Nanjing had landed and was taxiing on the north runway at around 10.50am when it veered off the tarmac and came to a halt on the grassy side.

“It eventually stopped with its nose wheel and the right-hand main landing gear rested on the grass area,”the Civil Aviation Department said, adding that it was being investigated as a “serious incident”.

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No injuries were reported, but two female passengers who complained of feeling unwell upon reaching the passenger terminal building were sent to North Lantau Hospital.

The north runway was forced to close for nearly two hours, delaying take-offs and landings until it was reopened at 12.40pm after the A321 aircraft was towed away.

“During the period of single-runway operation, around 50 arrival and 59 departure flights were disrupted,” a spokesman for the authority said.

The plane skidded off the runway about half an hour before the black rainstorm warning was issued. A passenger said the plane aborted its first landing, circled and then descended again.

“I felt it shake badly as it came in to land,” he said.

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Civic Party legislator and pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho said he had listened to an audio recording of a conversation between an air traffic controller and the pilots during the emergency.

“The plane landed on the eastern end of the north runway, and was supposed to leave the runway through exit A4 at its western end,” Tam said. “But for some unknown reason, the plane did not do so.”

Tam said the plane remained on the runway for so long that the controller had to ask another flight, KL887, to circle around again before landing.

“The air traffic controller then asked MU765 to leave through another exit, A2, but the plane ended up sliding onto the lawn between A4 and A2,” he said.

Tam noted that the plane seemed to have turned 180 degrees, and suggested pilot error or low visibility could have caused the accident.

“It is possible it is related to visibility ... It shouldn’t be a problem with the wind, the control system or the controller, whose instructions were quite clear,” he said.

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The pilot was recorded telling the controller that the plane had gone “the wrong way” at least five times after it landed. The controller then told approaching planes to “go around because the runway is blocked”, before informing MU765 that “fire services are on the way now to assist you”.

Senior scientific officer Wong Wing-tak of the Observatory said the rainstorm was the result of a trough of low pressure bringing unsettled weather to Hong Kong and the coastal area of Guangdong province. Conditions would improve on Thursday, he forecast.

Other coastal areas of southern China were also hit by torrential rain with many lowland areas in Guangdong flooded.

The provincial meteorological authority issued dozens of rainfall warnings, including a red alert for severe downpours and seven blue weather warnings indicating thunderstorms.

Additional reporting by Mimi Lau and Celia Chen