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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Air Niugini passengers safely evacuated

“I’m alive and that’s an extremely good thing,” said journalist Bill Jaynes, one of the passengers on board Air Niugini’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which crashed in a lagoon off in Chuuk Friday morning.

Air Niugini confirmed that all passengers of the ill-fated plane have been safely evacuated. “The airline is making all efforts to ensure the safety and immediate needs of our passengers and crew,” the airline said in a brief statement issued at 12:30 p.m.

Air Niugini said the aircraft, P2-PXE landed short of the runway while landing at Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.

P2-PXE was operating scheduled flight PX 073 between Pohnpei and Chuuk Airport when the incident occurred at 10:10 a.m. (FSM local time), the airline said in its latest press statement. “Air Niugini has been informed that the weather was very poor with heavy rain and reduced visibility at the time of incident.”

According to the flight schedule available online, flight PX 073 left Pohnpei at 8:50 a.m. and was scheduled to stop over in Chuuk on its way to Port Moresby. The flight had 35 passengers and 12 crew members onboard.

Bill Jaynes in Chuuk

“We came in low, very low. Unfortunately, the flight attendants panicked and started yelling. I was trying to be calm and help as best as I could.” Jaynes said in a video message posted by Matthew Colson on Facebook.

Jaynes said the plane hit the end of the runaway while landing. “We ended up back away from the retaining wall,” said Jaynes, editor of Pohnpei-based Kasehlelie Press. “We were able to get out. The water was only up to our knee inside the place. We went out to the emergency exit.”

He said the crew men on the boats came out to help rescue the passengers. “I was impressed with the whole response,” he said.

Air Niugini said it is now positioning assistance to Chuuk for our passengers and crew. “We are also in touch with the embassies, passenger representatives, stakeholders and families of the crew,” the airline said in a statement.

The Chuuk government has yet to issue an official statement. A staff employee at the governor’s office said Gov. Johnson Elimo was off-island.

“I’m putting together a report. I cannot issue t right now; I have to get the governor to sign it first,” Wilfred Robert, director of Chuuk’s Disaster Office, said in a phone interview.

Pictures of the partially sunken plane and videos of passengers being evacuated from the crash site were trending on social media.

Air Niugini, Papua New Guinea's national carrier, has just expanded its service in the Federated States of Micronesia with the launch of twice-a-week direct flights between Narita and Chuuk in September. The agreement enables Air Niugini to uplift passengers between Narita and Chuuk on the way to and from Port Moresby twice a week.

Air Niugini launched flights to FSM on Dec. 6, 2016 with two weekly flights. It has since been operating one frequency on a Port Moresby-Chuuk-Pohnpei routing and a second frequency on a Port-Moresby-Pohnpei-Chuuk-Port Moresby routing, both using Fokker 70 regional jets.

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