Medical evacuation plane helping coronavirus fight crashes in Manila, killing eight

The flight was bound for Haneda in Japan

Eight people have died after a medical evacuation plane exploded at Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport in the Philippines on Sunday.

The plane, which was bound for Haneda in Japan, burst into flames during takeoff as it reached the end of the runway.

The aircraft, used by the Philippine Health Ministry, was to be used in the fight against the outbreak of coronavirus.

All passengers and crew on board the flight were killed, Manila International Airport Authority officials said.

Fire crews were sent to douse the burning aircraft with foam.

Three medical personnel, three flight crew, a patient and a companion were on board the Lion Air flight, said Richard Gordon, a Filipino senator and head of the Philippine Red Cross. The six Filipino crew members, an American and a Canadian passenger were bound for Japan on a medical mission.

"Our fire and medic teams were already dispatched to NAIA Terminal 2 to respond to the plane crash incident involving Lion Air Flight RPC 5880," Mr Gordon tweeted on Sunday evening.

“Unfortunately, there were no survivors,” Manila airport general manager Ed Monreal said.

The runway has been temporarily closed as investigators from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board determined the cause of the incident, the airport officials said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said the aircraft apparently encountered an unspecified “problem which resulted in a fire” as it rolled to take off, adding its chief investigator was on the way to the scene.

Video footage shows the aircraft engulfed in bright-orange flames in the darkness as firefighters scramble to put out the fire by spraying chemical foam while sirens blare.

Nearly three hours after the accident, the bodies of the victims were still inside the wreckage. Airport authorities were waiting for police investigators to examine the crash scene before retrieving the remains, Mr Monreal said.

The airport’s main runway was closed due to the accident. The airport had only minimal staff due to air travel restrictions that are part of a monthlong lockdown imposed by the government in the main northern Philippine region of Luzon, where Manila, the capital, lies, to fight the coronavirus outbreak, officials said.

Donaldo Mendoza, the deputy chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said the aircraft was deemed “airworthy” based on records and its pilots were properly certified to fly.

The plane had flown to central Iloilo province Saturday to deliver medical supplies without any incident, Mendoza said.

Mr Mendoza said airport tower personnel were horrified to see the plane still rolling on the runway at a point when it should have already taken off, but added it remains unclear what trouble the plane encountered.

“They were really alarmed so they already picked up the hotline just in case, whatever happens, they can immediately call fire, crash and rescue,” Mr Mendoza said.