The airport operations had to be shut down after a Virgin Atlantic plane entered a closed-off section of the runway, and blew a tyre which left the aircraft disabled.
Newsday understands that at 7.25 pm a Boeing 747-400 Virgin Atlantic aircraft, flight number VS 52, about to depart for London, entered a taxiway that was closed for construction activity.
This resulted in the aircraft becoming stuck in a section of the taxiway that was not completely refurbished. As a result, the Airports Authority immediately activated its emergency plan. The Fire Service responded and all relevant authorities were alerted.
There were 452 passengers on board, and 16 crew members. There were no reported injuries.
A few of the passengers aboard the flight, speaking with Newsday recounted the incident. English visitor, Marcus Woodcock, was comfortable with the response. “They did everything they could, there were a lot of passengers to deal with,” he said. Another passenger, Judy Purse explained that the flight was a connector, and everything was normal until Tobago. “We actually came from Grenada, it was all fine. The plane landed here, the passengers from here boarded and well when we were gearing up to leave, we heard a bump.
“We didn’t know what was going on, and then we discovered that we were faced with this incident,” Purse explained.
Meanwhile, another passenger who refused to give his name, highlighted that the situation was really frustrating, especially as he had commitments. “This is so frustrating, I have things to do, and I cannot afford to be stuck here.”
Meantime, Soca superstar Machel Montano was also a passenger aboard the aircraft. Montano in thanking God, explained that when things like this happen it is better to be safe than sorry. “Thank God, everyone is safe and sound, nothing to raise an alarm for. The pilot just had a minor setback and went over some sort of ongoing construction just as we were ready for take off,” Montano added.
THA Secretary of Tourism and Transportation, Assemblyman Oswald Williams also came to the assistance of the passengers, citing the incident as “very unfortunate”. “It is an accident and that is very unfortunate as it now involves inconvenience, delay and cost,” Williams said. The Minister of Tobago Development, Mrs Vernella Alleyne Toppin was also on the scene. The Minister commended the officials on the response time.
Newsday was reliably informed that the airport was reopened for service at 6 am on Friday. Corporate communications manager at the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, Zola Pilgrim, in a press release explained that this area of the runway had been closed to facilitate paving and rehabilitation works. The release explained that the closed taxiway was appropriately marked.
It added that a team from the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority was conducting investigations to determine the cause of the incident. It was further understood that four Caribbean Airlines flights had to be cancelled due to the closure of the airport.
Meanwhile, Newsday was informed late yesterday that two technical officers were flown in from England to assess the situation, and that passengers scheduled to depart on that flight will be informed via text messaging as to the next plan of action. Transport Minister, Devant Maharaj, yesterday said an investigation is yet to be launched into the incident as his ministry was awaiting a report from the local Civil Aviation Authority.
Caribbean Airlines also increased its flights to Tobago to accommodate passengers who were affected when the airport reopened. The inter-island ferry was also utilised to transport those affected between Trinidad and Tobago.
The Virgin Atlantic mishap came almost two weeks after a Caribbean Airlines flight overshot the runway at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana and crash-landed. All 163 passengers and crew survived. However, one passenger broke his right leg which was subsequently amputated.