WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Everybody survived a plane’s crash landing in a Pacific lagoon Friday morning, with boats helping rescue more than 40 people from the half-submerged aircraft in the Micronesia archipelago.
The Air Niugini plane hit the water short of the runway while trying to land at Chuuk Island, according to the airline. Seven people were taken to a hospital, according to officials, including one described as being in a critical but stable condition.
Striking footage shows people being rescued in boats in images reminiscent of the 2009 crash landing in New York City known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
“It’s really fortunate that we didn’t have any fatalities,” said Glenn Harris, a government aviation security inspector for the Federated States of Micronesia.
Harris said the plane left from the Micronesian island of Pohnpei about 435 miles to the east before making the water landing a little before 10 a.m.
He said he has yet to see a passenger manifest, but he understands at least 30 passengers and 10 crew members were aboard.
The typical passengers would be business people from Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia, Harris said, as well as some tourists. Chuuk is known for its world-class diving to see shipwrecks in the clear waters, including 50 vessels sunk during World War II.
Harris said he doesn’t know what caused the crash landing or whether the pilots had alerted air traffic control of any problems. He said an investigative team would be on the ground in Chuuk by tomorrow morning to figure out what went wrong.
He said that the latest reports he’d heard indicated the plane remained afloat in the lagoon.
The airline said in a brief statement that everybody aboard the Boeing 737 was able to safely evacuate, and the airline was making all efforts to ensure the ongoing safety of the passengers and meet their immediate needs.
Air Niugini is the national airline of Papua New Guinea and has operated since 1973. The fleet includes Boeing 767 and 737 jets for international routes, according to the airline, as well as Fokker F-100 aircraft, Q400 and Dash 8 aircraft for challenging local terrain.
Air traffic website Flightradar24 said the flight was PX73. It identified the plane as a 737-800 with the registration number P2-PXE. Flight histories show that aircraft has been used on a number of routes recently, including to Manila, Sydney and Singapore.
Air Niugini’s network is concentrated on domestic routes linking the capital, Port Moresby, with isolated points across the Papua New Guinea archipelago. Chuuk is among its shorter international routes. It also flies to Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Micronesia, located north of Australia and east of the Philippines, is home to just over 100,000 people. It has close ties with the U.S. under an agreement known as a compact of free association.
The crash landing comes less than two months before Papua New Guinea hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, expected to draw world leaders to the country beginning on Nov. 17.
In 2009, both engines on a US Airways jet failed after striking a flock of geese during takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles safely landed their powerless plane on the Hudson River and passengers and crew walked on the wings to be rescued.
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