Cathay flyers sit for 16 hours

BEIJING - Immigration snags, limits on crew working hours and bad weather have been blamed for keeping 256 passengers stranded on the ground inside a Cathay Pacific plane for 16 hours.

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The incident involving Cathay Pacific flight Flight 831 from New York to Hong Kong began when it was was diverted to the southern city of Zhuhai on the night of March 30 because of a hailstorm, according to reports that emerged this week.

The plane was left sitting on the tarmac for hours until Cathay Pacific sent in a new flight crew, after the first crew had reached its mandated limit for work hours.

All of the passengers remained on board as required by Chinese immigration and customs regulations at Zhuhai, Cathay Pacific said in an e-mailed statement on Saturday.

According to the local Chinese customs district, Chinese officials worked continuously to accommodate the new 16 crew members, who took a high-speed ferry from Hong Kong and entered China through a Zhuhai port before arriving at the airport.

Chinese customs officials set up a temporary workplace at the airport, which does not have a permanent customs office, to process the crew members' paperwork before they flew the plane out of Zhuhai in the early afternoon of March 31, the customs district said.

Cathay Pacific said the plane took off at 1.08pm, more than 16 hours after it landed in Zhuhai. The flight arrived in Hong Kong a little over an hour later.

The flight usually takes 15 to 16 hours, but this flight turned out to be more than 34 hours long with the stopover.

The US television network NBC quoted an unnamed passenger who complained that the passengers could not leave the plane while in Zhuhai.

A Chinese government statement did not mention that the passengers were kept on the plane, but said that local officials provided them with drinking water and food.

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