SEATTLE, Washington — A 10-hour flight from the Netherlands stretched into 28 hours as passengers diverted from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by fog sat in the plane at a central Washington airport, stuck there because of Customs regulations.
Food and water ran short for the approximately 300 passengers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 33, and the toilets stopped working as the hours dragged on. At least two passengers were treated for medical conditions before passengers were finally allowed to stretch their legs late in the evening.
“It’s like we’re hostages without being in any kind of hostage situation,” passenger Misha Shmidt, a violinist with the Seattle Symphony, told The Seattle Times while on the plane Tuesday night.
The flight finally arrived at the Seattle airport at 6:26 a.m. Wednesday, 18 hours after its scheduled 12:30 p.m. Tuesday arrival.
Fog forces diversion
Heavy fog at Seattle forced the crew of the DC-10-30 to circle the airport until fuel ran low and the plane had to be diverted across the Cascade Range to Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake. Since embarking on what was supposed to be a 10-hour nonstop flight from Amsterdam, passengers had already been on the plane for roughly 12 hours by the time it arrived at 2:20 p.m.
Passengers initially weren’t allowed to leave the plane at because the Grant County airport, a former Air Force Base, isn’t equipped to screen so many international travelers.
Passengers then had to wait until another crew arrived from Northwest headquarters in Minnesota, because the existing crew had reached a company-mandated limit on how many hours they could work. The flight was delayed further after the plane carrying the new crew suffered mechanical problems, airline spokeswoman Mary Stanik said. The crew finally arrived, but then the plane still wasn’t able to leave because of bad weather in Moses Lake, Stanik said.
Lack of food, water, toilets
As passengers waited, food ran out and water had to be rationed. Pizza and soda were finally brought on board around 8:30 p.m., and the toilets also were eventually serviced.
Passenger John Castle, who was traveling with his family, described the atmosphere as “stale, foul and we’re all tired.”
Video: “It’s just horrible — with a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old, it’s just ludicrous,” he told The Seattle Times. “We’ve run out of games to play, and we’ve run out of baby food.”
One man was taken off the plane by medics and a second passenger was treated for an unknown medical emergency.
The passengers were finally allowed off the plane late in the evening, after airport officials temporarily cleared an airport terminal and posted sheriff’s deputies at the entrances, effectively making it into an international terminal.
Stanik said passengers would receive a gift pack that included phone cards and vouchers for a free airplane ticket anywhere Northwest flies in the United States and Canada.
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