Cathay Pacific flight makes emergency landing at Shemya air station

Eareckson Air Station, on Shemya Island. (Photo: US Air Force)
Eareckson Air Station, on Shemya Island. (Photo: US Air Force)

Updated 7/29/15 at 11:55 a.m.

A Cathay Pacific flight en route from Hong Kong to Los Angeles made an emergency landing at an Aleutian Islands military airport early Wednesday morning due to smoke inside the plane.

Ian Gregor, a spokesperson with the Pacific Division of the Federal Aviation Administration, says Flight 884 “declared an emergency and diverted to Eareckson Air Station in Shemya,” at the far western edge of the Aleutian chain.

Airlines officials described the emergency as “smoke detected in the aircraft.”

The Boeing 777 landed without incident around 3:30 Wednesday morning. Cathay Pacific spokesperson Jennifer Pearson says all 276 passengers and 18 crew aboard landed safely.

Air Force Colonel Frank Flores — the regional commander for Eareckson and 20 other installations in the Pacific and Alaska — says the air station has a single 10,000-foot long asphalt runway with a modern instrument landing system.

“And it can handle a Triple 7, it can handle our larger aircraft,” Flores said. “It was built up in the 40s to handle bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, and we’ve maintained it primarily as a divert runaway.”

Old aircraft revetments, buildings, and two other runways on the island date back to World War II and are mostly abandoned. But an operational crew of about 120 people — contracted through the Air Force — were on the ground to handle the emergency landing.

“We get airplanes out there probably once a day, once every other day,” Flores said. “So we have a contingent of people who will respond to any aircraft arrival. Any aircraft arrival requires us to mobilize firefighters, airfield mangers, and airfield personnel. People to receive passengers and cargo. So when this airplane came in, an announcement was put over the net and all those people assembled in the airfield just like they would for any other arrival.”

Though it’s still unclear what grounded the flight beyond the smoke in the aircraft, Colonel Flores says the plane appears to have been “fixed” and could be in the air by noon Wednesday.

When it does leave Shemya, the airline says the plane will fly to Anchorage, where another Cathay Pacific plane will bring passengers the final leg to Los Angeles.

The Cathay Pacific flight is operated jointly with American Airlines and South America’s LAN Airlines.

Matthew Smith is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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