WestJet passengers told to evacuate during flight 'threat'

More than 54 passengers were told to "just get out of the plane" and "evacuate" shortly after they landed in Winnipeg last night after a WestJet plane destined for Toronto was diverted.

Winnipeg police started probe into what airline deemed as a threat, but handed it over to RCMP

WestJet passengers told to evacuate during flight 'threat'

8 years ago
Duration 2:05
More than 54 passengers were told to "just get out of the plane" and "evacuate" shortly after they landed in Winnipeg Monday night after a WestJet plane destined for Toronto was diverted

More than 54 passengers were told to "just get out of the plane" and "evacuate" shortly after they landed in Winnipeg last night after a WestJet plane destined for Toronto was diverted.

The Boeing 737-700 was about an hour and a half into its flight from Edmonton when it made an emergency landing at Winnipeg's airport.

The plane remained on the Winnipeg airport's tarmac on Tuesday, but most passengers continued on to their destinations. They went out on the 5:30 a.m. flight to Toronto, according to a spokesperson with the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

Claudia Morroquin said the pilot announced Monday night that the plane would have to land in Winnipeg, and everyone was calm until the engines shut down on the tarmac in Winnipeg and the flight attendants started shouting "evacuate."

"He just shouted, 'Just get out of the plane. Get out of the plane,' and then just everybody started panicking because only the front exit had the slides – nothing else," said Morroquin. "I was closer to the exit in the middle, so I had two people jumping in front of me."

Six passengers were injured during the emergency evacuation. To get everyone off the plane as quickly as possible, WestJet used the inflatable emergency slides on the plane.

There was no word on the extent of the injuries.

But when Morroquin jumped, she sprained her ankle.

"When I landed on my feet because of maybe the adrenalin, I didn't feel the pain because they were just telling us, 'Get out of there!' flat out," she said.

WestJet officials have only said the aircraft had to make an emergency landing due to a "threat," but have not released any details. 

"The details of the threat will be the subject of a police investigation," the Calgary-based airline said on Twitter.

Jessica Doyle said she and fellow passengers were left in the dark about the type of threat, and they didn't get much information from flight attendants or the pilot.

"It was pretty scary," said Doyle. "They [plane staff] were wonderful, but not a lot of information [was given] about what happened."

Another one of the passengers, Bonnie Dupuis, said they were told they would get "further instructions" when they landed, but they didn't.

"They turned off the engines, and I thought, 'This is not good,' and then they just said, 'Evacuate. Evacuate.'" said Dupuis.

Dupuis ended up making what she estimated was a four-metre jump from the plane and injured her foot.

"All the SWAT teams were there. I mean, we didn't know what we were dealing with," she said. "The police right away basically said, 'Go to the side,' and pulled us away … the word was it was a bomb threat, but they just told us it was a threat to the plane."

According to WestJet officials, one staff member got off the plane first to help guests on the ground. The remaining crew stayed on until after all 54 passengers were out, per evacuation protocol. 

As people came off the plane, police dogs sniffed all the passengers, Dupuis said. 

"That doesn't happen every day," she added.

Winnipeg police started the investigation, but it has since been handed over to the RCMP.

RCMP and its explosives canine unit were searching the plane. Police also interviewed all the passengers and checked all the baggage before everyone was allowed to book hotel rooms late Monday night.

"Our hearts go out to all who were on the flight. It must have been a nerve-racking situation," WestJet said in another Tweet.

'No increase in hazard': aviation expert 

Todd Curtis, an aviation safety expert based in Boston, said it's not surprising there were injuries during the evacuation, considering not all the slides were in operation and it was hurried.

Curtis said passengers on any plane need to be familiar with their emergency exits, and be aware of how many rows are between them and the exits.

He said there isn't any reason for Canadian passengers to be concerned.

"Unless some other evidence from law enforcement says [there is a] specific, credible near-term threat, there's no increase in hazard in Canada or elsewhere when it comes to flying airliners," he said. 

TSB says threats are police matters

The Transportation Safety Board said it won't investigate since threats are considered criminal and as such are a police matter. 

"The Transportation Safety Board has been informed but is not considering a full investigation. We did collect information on the injuries sustained by passengers on exiting the aircraft," TSB spokesman John Cottreau said Tuesday. 

The situation also caused disruptions to another WestJet flight, which was scheduled to land in Winnipeg, but was diverted to Brandon, Man., as the airport was temporarily closed down.

WestJet was lauded on social media for how it handled the situation on the ground, communicating as much as it could.


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