“I cannot yet give you a precise timetable, we hope in any case that at the beginning of next week the flights can resume”, indicated the representative of the State, Hugues Moutouh, during a press point on the airport tarmac.
Since Saturday, flights departing or due to arrive at this airport, located on the Mediterranean coast and which sees up to 197,000 passengers transit per month in the summer season, have been either canceled or diverted.
“During the night from Friday to Saturday at 02:36 precisely a Boeing 737 (…) from the West Atlantic company, left the runway”, recalled the prefect, adding that the plane had “failed to brake enough”.
The aircraft, a regular flight carrying mail which landed every night at the same time on the tarmac in Montpellier, ended its journey in the Mauguio pond located at the end of the runway, the nose of the aircraft partly submerged.
The three people present in the aircraft were able to be extricated and brought to safety thanks to the rapid intervention of the emergency services. They are unharmed.
If “the exact circumstances” of this accident “remain to be determined by the experts” and are often “multiple”, “we think that the weather played a determining role in this runway excursion”, advanced the prefect. It was raining in Montpellier that night.
Sunday afternoon, “very complex operations” began to free the damaged aircraft, said the state representative.
“It’s a matter of harnessing the plane, rotating the nose, pulling it up and turning the plane around so that it can be evacuated to a cargo area to clear the main runway,” he said. clarified referring to the difficulty of moving an aircraft of “more than 50 tons empty with 5.7 tons of fuel remaining on board and 14 tons of mail” which was to be distributed in Bastia.
“It is therefore a considerable mass that must be lifted”, he noted.
“The decision that was taken taking into account the expert assessments is to leave the fuel inside the plane since there is no risk of a leak. The firefighters have pre-positioned a floating anti-pollution barrier near the head of the aircraft in order to avoid any risk of spreading kerosene” but “at this stage, no leak has been detected”, he insisted.
“This airport must return to normal activity as quickly as possible,” said the state representative. “There are around forty flights a day, it is a national airport (…) We receive a lot of travelers, tourists every day”, he recalled.
For the time being, the financial cost of the accident and the operations to extricate the plane “has not been quantified”, specified Hugues Moutouh, referring to the first working meetings on Saturday with “representatives of the company, insurers , the Civil Aviation Safety Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA) and the gendarmerie, which carried out judicial investigations under the authority of the Montpellier prosecutor”.