Air India’s 423-seater jumbo B747 plane took off from the Delhi airport at around 1.20 pm on Friday to evacuate Indian nationals from Wuhan as China deals with the novel coronavirus outbreak, officials said.
There are five doctors from Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital and one paramedical staff on board, they said, adding that around 400 Indians are expected to be evacuated and the plane is likely to return between 1 am to 2 am on Saturday.
“The plane did a pushback towards the runway at around 12.50 pm. It took off at around 1.20 pm on Friday. The departure got delayed a little from 12.30 pm scheduled time because of some pending clearances,” said a senior airline official.
After takeoff, Air India spokesperson stated that another special flight may take off from Delhi airport on Saturday to evacuate Indians from Wuhan.
About Friday’s flight, the spokesperson said, “A team of five doctors from RML hospital, one paramedical staff from Air India, with prescribed medicines from doctors, masks, overcoats, packed food are in the aircraft. A team of engineers, security personnel are also there in this special aircraft. The whole rescue mission is being led by Captain Amitabh Singh, Director (Operations), Air India.”
The spokesperson added that there are five cockpit crew members and 15 cabin crew members on Friday’s flight.
Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani said on Friday morning, “No service will take place in the plane. Whatever food is there will be kept in seat pockets. As there will be no service, there will be no interaction (between cabin crew and passengers).”
“Masks have been arranged for the crew and passengers. For our crew, we have also arranged a complete protective gear,” he added.
“Total five doctors from the Health Ministry are also going… The plane will be there (at Wuhan airport) for 2-3 hours,” said Lohani.
Air India has done such evacuations earlier also from countries such as Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait and Nepal.
The government has reached out to over 600 Indians living in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, to ascertain their willingness to be brought back to India.
The death toll in China’s novel coronavirus outbreak on Friday climbed to 213 with the number of confirmed cases totalling to 9,692.
Hubei province reported 5,806 confirmed cases, including 204 deaths.