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Dozens of flights affected as plane skids off rain-soaked Naia runway

/ 07:00 AM August 18, 2018

GROUNDED IN MUD A Xiamen Airlines passenger plane lies on its belly on a muddy field after landing in bad weather and skidding off the runway of Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Thursday night. There were no casualties but the incident caused widespread flight disruptions. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Thousands of passengers flying to and from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), the country’s main international gateway, were affected after a Xiamen Airlines plane veered off while landing and blocked the runway on Thursday night, causing major flight schedule disruptions.

Local carriers Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific, Philippines Air Asia and several international airlines were forced to cancel or divert dozens of flights.

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Airport authorities initially announced that the runway would remain closed until 4 p.m. on Friday, but efforts to extract the plane were still ongoing at press time.

In a statement, the Manila International Airport Authority said Runway 06/24 would be closed until 5 a.m. on Saturday.

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A smaller runway for domestic flights remained open, authorities said.

Airline officials said flights were diverted to Clark International Airport in Pampanga province and Mactan Cebu International Airport in Cebu province, while larger planes such as those coming from the Middle East had to be diverted to Vietnam and Thailand.

30 days to rebook, refund

Passengers were told that they may rebook, reroute or refund their flights within 30 days without any penalties.

There were chaotic scenes at the main terminal, which was packed with passengers, with long queues crowding check-in counters and snaking outside.

Xiamen Air Flight MF8667 from China veered off the runway while landing in a downpour near midnight on Thursday and got stuck in a muddy field with one engine and wheel ripped off.  All 165 people on board, including eight crew members,  scrambled out safely through an emergency slide, officials said.

Only four passengers sustained scratches while the rest were safe and taken to an airport terminal where they were given blankets and food before being shuttled to a hotel, airport general manager Ed Monreal said in a news conference on Friday.

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DISMEMBERED Airport personnel retrieve the left engine and other parts of the Xiamen Airlines aircraft, which skidded off the runway of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The engine broke off during landing in bad weather on Thursday night. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Poor visibility

The Boeing 737 from China’s coastal city of Xiamen at first attempted but failed to land, apparently due to poor visibility because of the heavy downpour, Jim Sydiongco, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines,  told reporters.

The plane circled before landing on its second attempt but lost contact with the airport tower, Sydiongco said.

The aircraft appeared to have “bounced” in a hard landing then veered off the runway and rolled toward a rain-soaked grassy area with its lights off, Eric Apolonio, spokesperson for the civil aviation agency said, citing an initial report about the incident.

Airport officials said they were looking into numerous factors, including the weather, the technology, and communications between the pilot and tower.

Investigators retrieved the plane’s flight data recorder and will get the cockpit voice recorder once the aircraft had been lifted to determine the cause of the accident, Sydiongco said.

The runway was closed most of Friday as emergency crews removed excess fuel then tried to lift the aircraft, its belly resting on the muddy ground, away from the main runway which was being cleared of debris, officials said.

“Our priority now is to reopen the airport runway immediately but we are not rushing because we value the safety and security of all the people,” Monreal said.

A Xiamen Air representative, Lin Hua Gun, said the airline would send another plane to Manila to resume the flight.

Detached engine

TV footage showed the plane slightly tilting to the left, its left badly damaged wing touching the ground and its landing wheels not readily visible as emergency personnel, many in orange overalls, examined and surrounded the aircraft.

One of the detached engines and landing wheels lay a few meters away.

PAL canceled 29 flights, including those operating in Japan, South Korea and London. Another eight flights were delayed while 10 flights were diverted.

Cebu Pacific said 29 domestic and 26 international flights were canceled, with 16,000 passengers affected, while Philippines Air Asia said over 30 flights were affected, including eight cancellations.

Naia, which operates well above its intended capacity, handled around 42 million passengers last year against its design capacity of 31 million passengers annually.  —WITH REPORTS FROM DEXTER CABALZA, CATHRINE GONZALES, AP

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