MADRID – Spanish police on Saturday searched for up to a dozen passengers on a flight from Morocco to Turkey who fled to the Spanish island of Mallorca after their plane made an emergency landing at the airport.
The plane, an Air Arabia Maroc flight from Casablanca to Istanbul on a Friday evening, asked to be diverted to Palma de Mallorca to treat a person on board who had reported getting sick, according to Spanish air traffic authorities, and landed around 8:00 pm
The passenger was taken to hospital but soon discharged and detained, accused of faking an illness to allow himself and others to enter Spain illegally, according to police.
While he was hospitalized, the police statement said, about 20 other passengers escaped the plane through the asphalt and managed to cross the airport’s security fences.
The chaos kept the airport, an important tourist hub, closed for more than three hours, forcing several other planes to divert.
It also brought a new aspect to Spain’s repeated struggles with illegal crossings, both of them by land from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and from West Africa by sea, a route it has often taken deadly consequences.
Police did not identify the man who was hospitalized, but said in a statement that he allegedly suffered a diabetic coma during the flight. According to the Spanish media, he was Moroccan. A travel companion who accompanied him to the hospital also fled.
Five passengers were arrested Friday night in the municipality of Marratxí near the airport, according to the police statement. At 11 on Saturday morning, police had arrested 11 people who were aboard the plane, according to a police officer in Palma, who asked not to be named so that he could speak while the search was underway.
On Saturday, the local authorities in Palma were expected to provide further details on the escape and search for the missing passengers.
Palma airport reopened just before midnight. Aena, the Spanish national airport operator, said that 13 aircraft it was to be diverted to Barcelona and other airports. More than 40 other flights experienced significant delays or cancellations.