WELLINGTON: A flotilla of small boats rescued all 47 passengers and crew from an Air Niugini flight that crashed into the sea short of the runway at an airport in the tiny South Pacific nation of Micronesia on Friday (Sep 28), the airport's manager said.
"It was supposed to land but instead of landing it was 150 yards short and she went down," Jimmy Emilio, general manager of Chuuk Airport at Weno in Micronesia, told Reuters by phone.
"We don't really know what happened ... people were rescued by boats - 36 passengers and 11 crew were all rescued, only the plane is sinking right now," he said.
He said the cause of the crash was unclear.
"Somebody has to look into that and let us know," he told the Pacific Daily News website. "So far, we don't know why they went down."
The Boeing 737 aircraft hit the lagoon surrounding the small island about 9.30am local time (2330 GMT Thursday), Emilio said. The passengers and crew were taken to hospital but no serious injuries were reported.
"I thought we landed hard until I looked over and saw a hole in the side of the plane and water was coming in," passenger Bill Jaynes said in a video posted by the Pacific Daily News website.
"I thought, well, this is not like the way it's supposed to happen," he said. Water was waist-deep in the cabin before rescuers arrived, he said.
Jaynes also praised the response of the locals, saying: "They immediately started coming out in boats. They were awesome and I was really impressed."
Video published online by Radio New Zealand and pictures posted on Twitter showed the half-submerged aircraft surrounded by small speedboats.
Air Niugini said in a brief statement that the airline is "making all efforts" to look after the passengers and crew.
It did not detail what caused the accident, but said it had been informed that "the weather was very poor with heavy rain and reduced visibility at the time of incident".
A spokesman for Papua New Guinea's Accident Investigation Commission said investigators would fly to the scene as soon as possible to piece together what happened.
Air Niugini is Papua New Guinea's national airline.
Australia's ABC reported that Papua New Guinea's Accident Investigation Commission was preparing to send a team to the accident site.