US Navy in heroic rescue as Air Niugini plane crashes into the sea claiming the life of one passenger
Dramatic footage shows the moment US Navy sailors evacuated passengers from the Air Niugini plane that crashed into water after overshooting a runway
After Air Niugini's flight from Pohnpei crashlanded next to the Weno Airport, sailors working on a construction project near the Chuuk Airport had to unexpectedly put their training, readiness, and teamwork to the test as they joined locals on fishing boats to assist in the rescue of the passengers onboard the plane.
The team was conducting operations close to the crash site, which was approximately a quarter mile short of the runway. Passengers and crew were shuttled to the shore using boats just moments before the aircraft sank into nearly 100 feet of water. One passenger, who sustained minor injuries, was attended by a hospital corpsman present on the team.
The heroic sailors regrouped and explored different ways to help the survivors and authorities at the scene after immediate rescue operations wound down and local authorities took control of the incident. They soon learned that three severely injured passengers needed immediate blood transfusions. Three sailors with matching blood types rushed to the hospital to donate a pint of blood each, Pacific Daily News reports.
The group of sailors had rushed to the partially submerged Boeing 737 as soon as it crashed, even before the emergency doors were opened. They entered the plane to conduct a quick sweep of the passenger compartment and crew areas and didn't exit the craft until fears arose that it could sink any time.
Meanwhile, Chief Hospital Corpsman Erich Weber set up a triage point onshore to treat or move patients further.
"As soon as we reported to the boat ramp, a boat full of patients came ashore. We triaged the worst of the group to our vehicle, one of which was conscious but in the fetal position due to the severity of injuries [and] pain," Weber said.
The plane sank into the Chuuk lagoon within an hour of crash landing. Air Niugini cited early reports indicating "very poor visibility at the time due to bad weather" as the cause of the crash, which is yet to be officially announced. It is being said that on the day of the crash, a tropical disturbance was passing Chuuk.
The sailors, who are part of the Underwater Construction Team 2, were working to improve the wharf area near the airport when the crash took place. The U.S. military played a significant part in assisting in medical evacuations and treatment of those who were injured.
In order to evacuate critical patients to Naval Hospital Guam, the Coast Guard flew a C-130 aircraft from Hawaii to the scene before sending a disaster medical assistance team to help local medical officials treat injured passengers who remained on the island.
The US Navy has been requested by Federated States of Micronesia authorities to help recover the aircraft's flight data recorders, which would help narrow down the reason behind the crash landing.
While initially it was claimed that all onboard were evacuated safely, a subsequent search for a missing passenger led to the discovery of a body inside the submerged plane on Monday. Previously, the airline had said the person had gone missing after having safely exited the aircraft.
The identity of the victim is yet to be revealed, but the airline is already working on reaching the man's family and arranging to send back his remains, a statement said.