Medical plane reportedly used for coronavirus response in Philippines ‘caught fire and exploded,’ American …

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An aircraft that’s been used as an air ambulance in the Philippines as the country deals with the coronavirus outbreak caught fire while attempting to take off for Japan on Sunday, killing all on board, including an American, according to officials.

The aircraft, a Lion Air plane, was bound from Manila to Haneda Airport in Tokyo with eight people on board when it caught fire at the end of the runway at Manila International Airport.

“There were no survivors,”  Manila airport general manager Ed Monreal said at a news conference.

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Monreal said two of the eight on board were foreigners — one American and one Canadian — and the rest were Filipinos.

Debris of the Lion Air medical evacuation plane, that exploded during takeoff, is seen on the runway of Manila International Airport.

Debris of the Lion Air medical evacuation plane, that exploded during takeoff, is seen on the runway of Manila International Airport.
(REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

Firetrucks and rescue personnel rushed and doused the aircraft with foam to try to extinguish the flames.

Debris of the Lion Air medical evacuation plane, that exploded during takeoff, is seen on the runway of Manila International Airport in Pasay City, Philippines.

Debris of the Lion Air medical evacuation plane, that exploded during takeoff, is seen on the runway of Manila International Airport in Pasay City, Philippines.
(REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said the aircraft  — an Agusta WW24 — apparently encountered an unspecified “problem which resulted in a fire” as it rolled to take off, adding its chief investigator was on the way to the scene.

Firemen and rescuers talk beside the remains of a Lion Air, West Wind 24 aircraft after it caught fire during takeoff at Manila's International Airport in the Philippines on Sunday, March 29, 2020.

Firemen and rescuers talk beside the remains of a Lion Air, West Wind 24 aircraft after it caught fire during takeoff at Manila’s International Airport in the Philippines on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
(AP Photo)

Philippine news site PhilStar reported the aircraft involved in the incident can be configured as an air ambulance, with space for a patient, two or three members of a medical team, and one or two relatives.

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Richard Gordon, a senator and head of the Philippine Red Cross, said on Twitter the eight passengers on board included a flight medic, nurse, doctor, three flight crew, one patient and a companion.

“The plane caught fire and exploded as it was taking off the NAIA runway 24,” Gordon tweeted.

It was not clear whether those on board were being airlifted to Japan for treatment for COVID-19, but government officials told the New York Times the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine uses the same aircraft to transport supplies to the medical workers on the front line throughout the nation as it battles the virus.

Donaldo Mendoza, the deputy chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said the aircraft was deemed “airworthy” based on records and its pilots were properly certified to fly.

The plane had flown to central Iloilo province Saturday to deliver medical supplies without any incident, Mendoza said.

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As of Sunday, the Philippines had 1,418 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 71 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterteknown for his outbursts and shocking comments, has restricted the main northern island of Luzon, home to more than 50 million people and the capital of Manila.

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Besides travel restrictions, most residents have been ordered to stay home, while most businesses and schools have been suspended as part of a monthlong containment strategy.

The airport’s main runway was closed due to the accident. The airport had only minimal staff due to air travel restrictions that are part of a monthlong lockdown imposed by the government in the main northern Philippine region of Luzon, where Manila, the capital, lies, to fight the coronavirus outbreak, officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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