Had Aeromexico flight 622 gone as planned last week, passengers flying from Guadalajara would have landed in San Francisco on Thursday morning.
But low fog prevented the scheduled landing, sending the Boeing 737 across San Francisco Bay to Oakland, California — and once the plane landed there, the situation devolved into chaos, as passengers sat on the tarmac aboard the stifling jet for hours with little food and water, the Associated Press reports. People passed out, pleaded with the flight crew to be released, called 911 and plotted to escape through the airplane door, according to AP. Two of the passengers were detained, but neither was arrested.
The hours-long debacle came despite the fact that the plane had been offered a gate to park at shortly after landing, the Mercury News reports. Passengers were finally allowed off the plane Thursday afternoon, and one woman was hospitalized, AP reported.
“There’s a lot of things that went wrong,” aviation expert Michael McCarron told NBC Bay Area. “The airline should have done a lot better job of communicating with the crew.”
Oakland International Airport blamed the pilot and airline for the tense situation: After the plane landed in the East Bay around 10:45 a.m., the Aeromexico pilot hoped to quickly get back in the air to San Francisco, so he didn’t request to let passengers off until hours later at about 2 p.m., airport spokeswoman Keonnis Taylor said, according to CBS SF. Customs and Border Protection approved the pilot’s request to deplane just half an hour after that, CBS reports.
Everyone was off the plane by 3:22 p.m., according to the Mercury News.
Holding passengers aboard the plane for nearly five hours could violate federal laws that protect passengers’ rights, the Mercury News reports. Passengers spent their time trapped on board scavenging in carry-on luggage for snacks, screaming, crying and cooling each other off, as the crew worried passengers were forming factions in hopes of forcing their way off the plane, according to the newspaper.
“We have someone on this flight who’s passed out. We haven’t been let off this flight for over four hours and they’re not doing anything,” a woman said in a 911 call from aboard the plan, according to the Mercury News. “Somebody passed out in the back and there’s another one right by the emergency exit who’s panicking and hyperventilating.”
But audio of a conversation between the pilot and an air traffic controller suggests it wasn’t just the pilot’s fault, CBS reports: The controller tells the pilot that “I do not have the personnel to contain everybody.”
“You need someone to die to open the door?” the pilot responds in the recording, apparently asking for help getting passengers off the plane.
Aeromexico said it does not have operations in Oakland and needed the green light from the airport before it could let fliers off, AP reports.
“It was hard to breathe,” Jaime Quirarte, a passenger on the flight who lives in San Francisco, told CBS. “But also we started feeling really weak.”
Quirarte called the pilot “completely incompetent.”
Erin Morgan, Quirarte’s wife, said the pilot’s demeanor made matters worse.
“His tone was ‘I’ve already told you this four times, I’m not going to say it again. No one is getting off the plane, no one is getting on the plane,’” Morgan told CBS.
Crew members were as frantic as passengers, NBC Bay Area reports.
“What I really need is police. Some authorities in here,” a crew member said in a conversation with air traffic control, according to NBC. A crew member also told the airport one flier was threatening to escape the stifling plane by opening its emergency door.
Aeromexico could be looking at steep fines if officials investigate the incident and find that the airline broke federal rules.
“With 182 passengers on board and fines of up to $27,000 per stranded passenger, Aeromexico could face almost $5 million in fines if found to have violated the rules,” according to the Mercury News.
Danny Caldron of Stockton, California, said he was one of the two passengers handcuffed and detained by authorities from four agencies after the incident, NBC reports.
“There was another passenger behind me that passed out, and then someone called 911 and said there are passengers here who are in distress,” Caldron told the TV station, adding that he had explained to the crew that he is diabetic and that his blood sugar was low.
He said he was surprised deputies handcuffed him — and still isn’t sure why he was targeted.
“I did not at any time threaten any employee on the plane,” Caldron told NBC. “I did go up front a couple times to ask what was going on, but I never threatened anybody.”