The massive cargo plane that evacuated 240 Americans from Wuhan, China, landed in Anchorage at about 9:25 pm on Tuesday.
Passengers were accommodated on the plane by special seats installed for the evacuation in what is normally a huge cargo bay.
Upon arriving, passengers went through health screening with CDC medical professionals, and passed through U.S. Customs and border protection in the North Terminal of Ted Stevens International Airport. At this writing, that process is completed and reboarding has begun (11:30 pm Tuesday).
Adam Crum, commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, said the entire operation was a proud moment for Alaska.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the Alaska-based response. We mobilized quickly and responded with care for American citizens in need, while simultaneously protecting Alaskans,” he said.
The North Terminal is closed in the winter, and so already serves as a solid choice for keeping the passengers isolated from those in the bustling South Terminal.
Late Tuesday, the federal government announced the flight would be diverted to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., rather than a hangar at the Ontario, Calif. International Airport, where it was originally destined. No explanation was given for the diverted flight plan.
The passengers will be quarantined at the air base to ensure none of them are carrying the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, and has killed as many as 132 people, mostly in China.
The jet, a Boeing 747-400 quad operated under charter by Kalitta Air, left Wuhan before dawn on Wednesday, China time, and landed in Alaska after 9 pm on Tuesday, Alaska time. As it pulled up to the North Terminal, several men in hazmat suits approached on the tarmac. Airport police vehicles bustled to and fro, but within an hour, the scene around the plane was calm.
Passengers who exhibit symptoms of the illness, which are similar to other flu symptoms, will be evaluated and either treated in Anchorage or at a hospital in the Lower 48; decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Since the first of the year, six cargo flights from Wuhan have landed at Anchorage. For now, cargo flights have been suspended since last Thursday.
“The airport has facilities and procedures in place. Any flights suspected of carrying passengers with communicable diseases will be isolated. All international flights and flights suspected of carrying passengers with a communicable disease are processed in the North Terminal where CDC staff and quarantine facilities are located,” said Jim Szczesniak, Airport Manager. “No flights suspected of carrying passengers with a communicable disease are processed in our main domestic terminal. The North Terminal is completely isolated from the domestic terminal and closed to the public.”