Nfld. & Labrador

United Airlines plane diverted to Goose Bay leaves passengers stuck on board for 16 hours

A United Airlines plane diverted to Goose Bay Airport in Labrador Saturday night resulted in a lengthy stay on the tarmac for passengers stranded on the aircraft.

Passengers boarded rescue plane back to Newark Airport around 4 p.m. AT

Passengers travelling from Newark, N.J. to Hong Kong weren't expecting to stop off in Goose Bay, N.L. for 16 hours this weekend. (@sonjaydutterson/Twitter)

A United Airlines plane diverted to Goose Bay Airport in Labrador Saturday night resulted in a lengthy stay on the tarmac, according to passengers who were stranded on the aircraft.

After a wait of about 16 hours, a rescue plane touched down around noon local time, and travellers reported they were transported to the alternate plane by bus after 2 p.m. AT. 

The plane took off for Newark Liberty International Airport shortly before 4 p.m.

In a statement to CBC News, the airline says United Flight 179 travelling from Newark, N.J., to Hong Kong was originally diverted to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., due to a medical emergency, where medical personnel met the plane and took the passenger to hospital.

However, a mechanical issue prevented the plane from taking off again. Passengers were not able to leave the aircraft because customs officers were not available overnight, United said.

The airline told CBC News 250 passengers were on board.

Paramedics responded to a medical emergency on the plane that required crew to make an unplanned landing at the Goose Bay airport. (Submitted by Sonjay Dutt)

The airline believes cold weather caused a door on the plane to malfunction, preventing takeoff. Happy Valley-Goose Bay is currently grappling with an extreme cold warning issued by Environment Canada, with temperatures dipping below -30 C.

Communication poor, passenger says

Temperatures on the plane quickly plummeted to "uncomfortable" levels, said passenger Sonjay Dutt, a professional wrestler en route to Hong Kong for a show.

Crew handed out blankets, but according to Dutt, they were able to offer little else to assuage mounting anger from passengers.

"Communication could be better," Dutt said in a phone call from the plane. Passengers were told at the start of the delay that a rescue flight had already departed to return them to Newark. An update wasn't announced until about five hours later, he said.

They were also told the airport didn't have the customs capacity to handle hundreds of passengers, Dutt added.

Dutt also said food and water was running low until about 10 hours into the delay, when officials delivered Tim Hortons to hungry travellers.

Most appreciated the gesture, Dutt said, but reaction to the offering was muted.

"I think people are so fed up, and so at their wits' end, that even the sight of food didn't get everyone up and cheering."

Other passengers on board tweeted out complaints to United, wondering why they had been told a replacement plane was in the air and were not informed of further delays. Dutt said a pilot told passengers to email United's CEO with complaints about communication practices.

A Twitter account sprang up Sunday morning poking fun at the situation.

In its statement Sunday morning, United said an alternative aircraft had been sent to Goose Bay to fly passengers back to Newark if mechanics are unable to fix the malfunctioning door.

Passengers reported that rescue plane touched down around noon and they waited another two hours to be transported to the alternate plane by bus.

The airline said it had food delivered to the plane and the second aircraft would provide more meals for passengers.

United said it apologizes to its customers and and would do everything possible to assist them during the delay.

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