Sailors Who Rescued Plane Passengers Saw Aircraft Making Low Approach

U.S. Sailors assigned to Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2 assist in rescuing the passengers and crew of Air Niugini flight PX56 following the plane ditching into the sea on its approach to Chuuk International Airport in the Federated States of Micronesia, Sept. 28, 2018. (U.S. Navy /Lt. Zach Niezgodski)
U.S. Sailors assigned to Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2 assist in rescuing the passengers and crew of Air Niugini flight PX56 following the plane ditching into the sea on its approach to Chuuk International Airport in the Federated States of Micronesia, Sept. 28, 2018. (U.S. Navy /Lt. Zach Niezgodski)

Navy divers with an underwater construction team had been operating around a tiny Pacific Micronesian island for about a month when they saw a Boeing 737 coming in way too low.

The sailors with Underwater Construction Team 2 watched as an Air Niugini aircraft missed the runway at Chuuk International Airport on Friday and flew into the water. They immediately rushed back to their small boat and headed straight for the downed plane.

"We've been working in the vicinity of the runway and the main commercial port here, and we've seen planes coming in and out of here for the past month," Construction Mechanic 1st Class John Monahan, who led the group of six sailors to the partially submerged plane, told CNN.

It was obvious, Monahan added, that the plane was too low to make its intended landing.

Related content:

When the team reached the plane, about a quarter mile from the runway, it was sinking in a lagoon that's about 100 feet deep. They got there before the emergency doors had even opened. When they did, the sailors helped load passengers onto their inflatable boat so they could be shuttled back to shore.

Navy videos show passengers exiting the aircraft in yellow life vests. Some of the sailors, wearing nothing but swim trunks, can be seen walking on the wing to reach the open door.

RELATED VIDEO:

When they entered the aircraft to check for more passengers, water was quickly filling the cabin. Builder 3rd Class Brock Farmer swam through the cabin checking for passengers before the sailors decided it was no longer safe to be inside the sinking plane.

Back out on the wing, they got a head count of passengers and crew members who had boarded the boat. Local fishermen had joined the rescue efforts, and a corpsman gave medical attention to at least one passenger, according to a Navy news release.

Airline officials initially said all 47 passengers and crew safely evacuated the aircraft, but the body of a male passenger was found in the lagoon Monday.

Several people were treated for injuries, and four remained hospitalized as of Sunday, according to airline officials. The Coast Guard helped move some of those patients in critical condition to Naval Hospital Guam.

The Coast Guard also sent a team of six doctors with a disaster medical-assistance team to Chuuk, where they helped treat the injured passengers, the release states. And when the Navy diving team was told some of the severely injured were in need of blood transfusions, three sailors with the right type donated.

It's not immediately clear what caused the plane to miss the runway. In a Sunday statement, Air Niugini's chairman, Sir Kostas Constantinou, said "very poor visibility at the time due to bad weather" might have played a role.

The Navy has been asked to help recover the flight-data recorders, which could offer more details about the crash.

Constantinou thanked the Navy divers for their assistance.

"I would like to express my deep gratitude to the aircrew of P2-PXE, the U.S. Navy, and to the many Micronesians who came to the rescue of the passengers and crew so quickly," he said Sunday.

The sailors were in the area to improve a local wharf. They were inspecting navigational aids and taking steps to help protect coral reef from boat anchors near a popular scuba-diving site, according to the release.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

Show Full Article