12 passengers at large after fleeing plane in Spain emergency landing

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Palma de Mallorca, one of Spain's busiest airports, was paralysed for hours as police searched the runways (AFP/JAIME REINA)
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Mallorca police arrested 12 passengers and were seeking 12 more Saturday who fled a plane during an emergency landing in an "unprecedented" incident possibly linked to illegal immigration, officials said.

The unauthorised exodus followed a passenger apparently being taking ill on a flight from Morocco to Turkey, with the plane forced to stage an emergency landing at Palma de Mallorca, one of Spain's busiest airports.

"Twelve people have been arrested and 12 more have yet to be found," Aina Calvo, the Spanish government's representative in the Balearic Islands, told a news conference.

"Such events have never taken place before at any airport in Spain."

Police earlier said a passenger "apparently suffered a diabetic coma and was taken by ambulance to hospital with a companion" but on arrival was found to be fine and discharged.

"He was arrested on suspicion of encouraging illegal immigration and violating Spanish immigration law," a police statement said, noting his companion had fled.

During the evacuation, another 21 passengers got out of the plane at around 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Friday evening and ran onto the runway, Calvo said, prompting a massive police search that forced the closure of the airport until around midnight.

Another person was arrested for "insults and aggression" inside the plane, raising to 24 the total number involved in the incident -- most of them Moroccans except for one "who we believe is Palestinian", she said, adding that the incident was "unprecedented".

- Pre-planned or on a whim? -

Investigators were examining "whether what happened at the airport was an orchestrated, planned event or an isolated incident", she said.

"At this stage we do not have any information that allows us to confirm that this was an orchestrated operation... or part of a pre-determined plan. But the investigation is still open."

Calvo said the plane had been on the tarmac "for quite some time" before the other passengers decided to disembark.

"At this point, we cannot clearly say why these 21 people decided to rush onto the runway."

Those that fled the plane would be prosecuted for non-compliance with air safety regulations and irregular entry into Spain, and would be deported to their country of origin, Calvo said.

None of them had applied for political asylum, she added.

Following the investigation, medical emergency protocols would be reviewed to see if anything needed changing in light of the incident, she added.

According to aircraft tracker FlightRadar24, the plane was an Air Arabia Maroc Airbus A320 flying between Casablanca and Istanbul.

During the incident, 13 planes bound for Palma were rerouted to other airports, and 16 departing flights suffered significant delays, AENA said.

hmw/har

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