The resumption of air traffic at Montpellier airport, closed since Saturday morning after a cargo plane left the runway, could take place “early this week” if the operations to clear the damaged aircraft are successful, announced Sunday the prefect of Hérault.
“I cannot yet give you a precise timetable, we hope in any case that at the beginning of next week the flights can resume”, indicated the representative of the State, Hugues Moutouh, during a press point on the airport tarmac.
Since Saturday, flights departing or due to arrive at this airport, located on the Mediterranean coast and which sees up to 197,000 passengers transit per month in the summer season, have been either canceled or diverted.
The aircraft, a regular flight carrying mail which landed every night at the same time on the tarmac in Montpellier, ended its journey in the Mauguio pond located at the end of the runway, the nose of the aircraft partly submerged.
The three people present in the aircraft were able to be extricated and brought to safety thanks to the rapid intervention of the emergency services. They are unharmed.
If “the exact circumstances” of this accident “remain to be determined by the experts” and are often “multiple”, “we think that the weather played a determining role in this runway excursion”, advanced the prefect. It was raining in Montpellier that night.
Sunday afternoon, “very complex operations” began to free the damaged aircraft, said the state representative.
“It’s about harnessing the plane, rotating the nose, bringing it up and turning the plane around so that it can be evacuated to a cargo area to clear the main runway,” he said. clarified referring to the difficulty of moving an aircraft of “more than 50 tons empty with 5.7 tons of fuel remaining on board and 14 tons of mail” which was to be distributed in Bastia.
“It is therefore a considerable mass that must be lifted,” he noted.
“The decision that was taken given the expertise is to leave the fuel inside the aircraft since there is no risk of leakage. The firefighters pre-positioned a floating anti-pollution barrier near the head of the aircraft in order to avoid any risk of spreading kerosene” but “at this stage, no leak has been detected”, he insisted.
“This airport must return to normal activity as quickly as possible,” said the state representative. “There are around forty flights a day, it is a national airport (…) We receive a lot of travelers, tourists every day”, he recalled.
For the time being, the financial cost of the accident and the operations to free the plane “has not been quantified”, specified Hugues Moutouh, referring to the first working meetings on Saturday with “representatives of the company, insurers , the Civil Aviation Safety Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA) and the gendarmerie, which conducted judicial investigations under the authority of the Montpellier prosecutor”.