Mallorca police on Saturday arrested 12 people after a group of passengers fled a plane following an emergency landing.
Palma airport, on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca, was forced to close for nearly four hours on Friday night due to the incident.
An Air Arabia Maroc plane from Casablanca to Istanbul had been diverted to Palma de Mallorca due to an apparent medical emergency.
Passengers stormed the tarmac
When an ambulance arrived to take the allegedly ill passenger — who was reported to have fallen unconscious due to diabetes — to the hospital, he and around 20 passengers bolted for the plane’s door and ran onto the tarmac.
Police arrested nine people, in addition as the person who was said to be sick, the person’s companion, and a person who was fighting with an official on the plane. Another 12 were nevertheless on the loose.
Prior to his arrest, the passenger who had raised the alarm was taken to the hospital and found to be medically fit. He was held on suspicion of “assisting in illegal immigration.”
Investigators believe the remaining escapees managed to climb over the airport perimeter fence and disappear on the island.
Authorities search for motive
Spanish media had reported, citing police officials, that the diversion was a deliberate attempt to help people illegally go into Spain. But the authorities played down the suspicion.
“At this stage, we do not have any information that allows us to confirm that this was an orchestrated operation… or part of a pre-determined plan,” said Aina Calvo, a government official on the Balearic Islands.
“All fronts (for the investigation) are open at this moment and there is no information that affirms that it is an act of unauthorized immigration carried out in a plot,” Calvo additional.
“What is unheard of is that a person feels sick and… 21 people jump onto the airstrip and start running around, because that puts air traffic in jeopardy.”
Many of the escaping passengers were not caught by police, and are believed to have fled over the perimeter fence
Dozens of planes diverted, delayed
Airport operator Aena said 13 arriving planes were diverted, including to nearby Ibiza airport. Sixteen departing planes were grounded.
The airport reopened around midnight Friday after being closed for about four hours.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands that sit in the Mediterranean off the eastern coast of mainland Spain.
The island is hugely popular with European tourists, and Palma airport is one of the busiest in Spain.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was used by up to 28 million passengers a year.
Spain is one of the countries that bear the brunt of illegal migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
Its exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa regularly experience crowds of migrants and refugees who storm their border fences in large numbers.
Spain’s Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, have also seen an increase in migrant arrivals by boat.
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