Xiamen Air plane skids off Philippine runway, disrupting flights

MANILA (Reuters) - Thousands of air travelers faced delays on Friday after a Chinese airliner skidded off the runway at the airport in the Philippine capital, disrupting more than 200 flights as authorities struggled to remove the damaged plane.

All 157 passengers and eight crew aboard the Xiamen Air Boeing 737-800 were unharmed after the accident late on Thursday, according to the airline and airport officials.

The main runway at Manila’s international airport would remain closed until 5 a.m. on Saturday (2100 GMT on Friday) to allow for more time to remove the plane, authorities said.

Some 112 international and domestic flights were canceled and another 118 flights delayed following the accident, based on initial lists from airlines.

The disruptions led to chaotic scenes at the Philippines’ biggest airport, as travelers waited in long queues outside the terminals and at check-in desks.

Several passengers expressed their dismay on Facebook.

“This is very unfortunate for us who booked the hotel and tours,” said Steph Iligan. “It can’t be cancelled/refunded.”

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Images of the plane operated by Xiamen Air, a subsidiary of China Southern Airlines, showed it next to an airport perimeter fence with the left wing touching the ground.

Efforts to remove the 43-tonne plane proved difficult, prompting the authorities to bring in two cranes to try to lift it.

The plane “misapproached” on its first attempt to land and lost contact with the control tower on the second, when it skidded off the runway after touching down, said Ed Monreal, the general manager at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

“We offer no excuses, just a promise to bring NAIA flight operations back to normalcy by tomorrow using all our internal resources and if needed, employ outside resources notwithstanding the cost it will entail,” Monreal said in a statement.

An investigation was underway.

Airport officials said they were looking at several factors, including bad weather on Thursday night and communications between the pilot and control tower.

Monreal said they were not able to access the content of the flight recorder and it would be sent to Singapore for analysis.

Xiamen Air said in a short statement that no one had been injured in the incident.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said it had set up an investigation group and sent a team to Manila to coordinate with Philippine authorities. The regulator said it also sent a team to Xiamen Air.

Reporting by Karen Lema, Peter Blaza in MANILA; Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, and Eric Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Darren Schuettler