Plane’s emergency landing in Spain sparks fears of a new migration ‘health trick’

By Lucie Ctverakova
5 Min Read

One November Friday afternoon, a plane with 150 passengers took off from the Moroccan airport in Casablanca and headed for Turkey. Shortly after going airborne, one of the passengers became sick. The Air Arabia Maroc flight had to thus make an emergency landing on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where about 20 passengers then disembarked from the plane and on to Spanish territory. The November incident immediately sparked questions about new migration routes to Europe.

The Airbus A320 of the Moroccan company Air Arabia Maroc was supposed to arrive in Istanbul, Turkey, after about six hours of flight, but due to the alleged health problems of one of the passengers, the plane landed a little earlier.

Following a diabetic emergency of one of the passengers, the Moroccan airline crew decided to ask for permission to make an emergency landing. Instead of Istanbul, the plane headed for the largest island in the Spanish Balearic Islands and landed at Son Sant Joan Airport in Palma de Mallorca.

After landing, an ambulance was waiting for the ill Moroccan and took him to a hospital in Palma. In the meantime, a drama was taking place on board of the plane and at the airport after 20 passengers fled.

“There was a large altercation on the aircraft, with the crew being rebuked and intimidated by several passengers who asked to be allowed out to smoke and get out on to the airstrip,” the BBC quotes a report from investigators who are currently investigating the incident from early November.

The events on board were also captured on a video shared by BBC and the Spanish El País daily. The footage shows several men running across the runway while others try to get to the exit. About 20 men, mostly Moroccans and one Palestinian, managed to get out of the plane. Therefore, the airport had to suspend operation for several hours.

While 20 passengers managed to get over the airport fence and flee, the man with the alleged diabetic shock was discharged from the hospital, with doctors stating he was completely healthy. Police, therefore, arrested him for illegal entry.

Just a few hours after the emergency landing, another 12 migrants, who were caught by the police near the airport, also ended up in handcuffs. They are now in custody and are accused of, among other things, aiding illegal immigration, disturbing public order, or incitement. However, another 12 men managed to get away, and at least two of them have traveled by ferry to Barcelona.

According to the BBC, the November incident raised not only questions about airport security but also a debate about possible new migration routes to Europe. Concerns that the “emergency landing trick” could set a precedent are highlighted by some Spanish media and politicians, especially those belonging to the right.

The authorities consider this incident to be a deliberate, pre-planned action. This theory is supported by the mere fact that none of the 20 men checked in any luggage before departure.

Manual on Facebook

A Facebook account followed by thousands of people in Morocco also provided some clues to the investigators. In early July, the account published a post that planned the same event that occurred four months later on the Casablanca-Istanbul route.

The post stated, among other things, that if one of the passengers became sick during a flight through Spanish airspace, the plane would have to make an emergency landing in Spain for the airline to “save its reputation and avoid any liability.”

According to the El País daily, however, the post also mentioned instructions for other participants in the plan, who were to start screaming after a passenger pretended to pass out and thus ensure that the plane landed on Spanish territory. At the very end, the post stated: “If you are interested, apply.”

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