Papua New Guinea plane overshoots Micronesia runway and sinks in lagoon

Media reports said all passengers were rescued from Air Niugini’s partially submerged Boeing 737-800

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 11:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 9:19pm

A Papua New Guinean plane has sunk in a lagoon after overshooting the runway in the Federated States of Micronesia.

All 35 passengers and 12 crew were rescued from Air Niugini’s partially submerged Boeing 737-800, after local fishermen took their boats out to the crash site almost immediately.

Seven people were taken to a hospital, according to officials, including one described as being in critical but stable condition.

Flight 73 flies between Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia and Port Moresby, stopping in Chuuk State.

Videos posted to social media show dozens of people in boats around the wreckage.

Air Niugini, Papua New Guinea’s national airline, said in a statement the plane “landed short” of the runway. A spokesman for the airline earlier said the accident happened as the plane was taking off.

The statement said the weather was “very poor with heavy rain and reduced visibility at the time of the incident”.

Boeing said in a Twitter post that it “is prepared to provide technical assistance” in any investigation.

The plane is believed to be a 13-year-old aircraft previously operated by Jet Airways and Air India Express and was involved in a collision at Port Moresby in May.

It was stationary at Jacksons international airport when a cargo plane clipped its wing while turning, according to Papua New Guinea’s Accident Investigation Commission.

Matthew Colson, a Baptist missionary on the island who runs a local radio station, said it had been raining but was not windy when the plane landed.

Passengers included a small number of locals mainly US and Australian passengers, he said.

The plane crashed into the water near a market where the fishermen sell their catch.

“They just went straight out there and started hauling people to shore,” Colson said.

Air Niugini had only recently begun flying that route with the larger Boeing planes, he added.

“United is mostly the only airline that comes out here and it’s been that way for years … There are flights every day but this has never happened before. Mainly because this route is considered one of United’s hardest routes for the 737, so they … send their best pilots out here for the island hopper.”

Colson also interviewed one of the passengers, Bill Jaynes, a journalist based in Pohnpei.

“It was surreal,” Jayne said in a video posted to Facebook. “I thought we [just] landed hard until I looked over and saw a hole in the side of the plane and water was coming in, and thought, ‘This is not the way it’s supposed to happen.’ We came in low, very low. Unfortunately the flight attendants panicked and started yelling. I was trying to be calm and help as much as I could.”

Jayne said he wasn’t seriously hurt but there were some “pretty severe injuries” among other passengers.

“I was really impressed with the locals who immediately started coming out in boats. One might think they’d be afraid to approach a plane that just crashed … [but] they were awesome.”

Colson said his understanding was there were some broken limbs and head injuries among the passengers, who were not braced for impact.

John Merelli, an employee at the High Tide hotel, a short distance from the end of the runway, said he heard the plane coming in but thought it was just a normal landing.

“Then I went back to my workplace and somebody told me, and I looked from the rooftop and the plane was starting to go underwater,” he said. “It was sinking. It’s underwater now.”

Another employee said the runway was known to be very short.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Kyodo