It was a challenge for the local tourism industry: Commercial flights bound for Guam were in the air and needed alternative places to land after Northwest Flight 74 got stuck in the middle of the lone working runway at the Antonio B. Won Pat International Air Terminal Friday afternoon. The problem was solved for the most part when Andersen Air Force Base came to the rescue on short notice, opening its airstrip to eight commercial flights Friday.
In just three hours, 830 passengers aboard the flights arrived Guam via Andersen. “The problem was quickly resolved, and the Air Force participated magnificently in terms of taking care of the in-bound flights,” said Gerry Perez, Guam Visitors Bureau general manager. Tourists aboard the planes that were diverted to Andersen managed to continue on with their tropical vacation after they were bused from the air base to the Antonio B. Won Pat International Air Terminal for customs and immigration clearance and then on to their Guam hotels.
“Andersen’s assistance was a savior,” Perez said. Saipan’s international airport opened for backup landing as well for at least two flights from Japan to Guam that afternoon. Andersen even allowed the use of its new, giant, $32-million hangar for some of the passengers who needed extra comfort while waiting to be bused out of the military airfield. Col. Michael Boera, commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Andersen, described “Team Andersen’s” effort to help as “phenomenal.” “As an aviator myself, I know that incidents happen and you just can’t pull over to the side of the road in a jet,” Andersen’s public affairs office quoted him as saying. “Andersen Air Force Base has afforded the opportunity to other airliners to land safely.”
Guam’s commercial airport shut down for arriving and departing flights for about six hours Friday after Northwest Flight 74, a Boeing 747 that had just touched down from Japan, was stuck about 130 yards from the local airport’s terminal building. The Northwest aircraft’s front landing gear collapsed after the plane had slowed and was approaching its gate assignment, shutting down the only runway that was working at the time. Although the aircraft was not removed until the next day, the airport’s second runway, which had just gone through an extension project, was reopened about six hours after Flight 74’s incident.
Three people were injured in the incident, which the Northwest corporate office has said did not have any link to the unrest among the airline’s mechanics, who went on strike last weekend. Perez acknowledged there were inconveniences among tourists whose return flights were delayed, but he emphasized the inconveniences were minimal. He said he has heard that the family of the elderly Japanese tourist who sustained minor injuries and was treated at the Guam Memorial Hospital still wants to travel to the island again.
He said the family vacations on Guam every year. “Although the experience has shaken them, they were well treated,” Perez said. “We believe the impact had been minimal due to the quick resolution of the problem and the excellent cooperation all around — by the military, the hotels, tour companies and (the local and federal agencies),” Perez said.