Passengers on a flight from Dublin, Ireland to San Francisco, California found themselves making an unexpected stop in Iqaluit last Tuesday when somebody on board required urgent medical attention.
The Aer Lingus Airbus A330-300, which seats nearly 300 people and is classified as a wide-body aircraft, landed in the city for approximately three hours, during which time one passenger was taken to the hospital, and the plane was refuelled.
It was certainly not what the passengers on board expected, and an unusual sight for anybody near the airport, which does not typically welcome such large passenger planes.
However, it was a development airport staff were well prepared for.
“The Iqaluit Airport is designated as an alternate airport for many flight plans on high latitude and polar routes,” said Government of Nunavut spokesperson Weichien Chan. “The airport is equipped for these incidents and has a plan in place for wide-body diversions.”
The first priority upon the plane’s arrival was getting the passenger that required medical attention to the hospital.
However, staff quickly dedicated themselves to the task of getting the plane back into the air, and keeping the passengers on board as comfortable as possible in the interim.
“The goal of the airport is to work with the airline to get the aircraft on its way as soon as possible, to ensure the flight crew do not exceed their duty time,” Chan said. “The airport has agreements with local providers to provide food, accommodation, and medical assistance in the event of an unplanned diversion, and can accommodate a jet with hundreds of passengers with very short notice.”
Iqaluit resident Brian Tattuinee watched the plane’s entire stopover, and says “paramedics were on the scene ready to assist when the airplane arrived.”
“I seen a passenger get off the aircraft with the assistance of paramedics and into the ambulance, I presume to our hospital,” he added, noting that RCMP and border services were also on site.
Tattuinee partakes in a hobby known as plane-spotting with several other Iqaluit residents. He has seen similar diversions occur in the past, but admits “it doesn’t happen often.”
“I don’t recall the last big diversion,” he said, noting that an Aer Lingus flight headed for Dublin landed in the Iqaluit in July of 2022, and a United flight headed from Munich to San Francisco stopped in the city in 2020.
“There’s been a few for sure that I’ve missed,” he said. “Some arrive in the middle of the night.”
“Usually within about a two-hour window is when big planes turn around and continue,” he added. “Generally, Iqaluit is well prepared for emergencies such as Aer Lingus’ medical diversion.”