Cabin​ crew narrate details of airlift of Vietnamese out of Wuhan

By Doan Loan   February 11, 2020 | 09:20 pm PT
Vietnam recently sent an aircraft to evacuate its nationals stranded in Wuhan, and crew recount how they could not eat or drink on board.

From 33 volunteers, five cabin attendants were chosen for the flight on February 9-10, Pham Hai Bang, the chief of the cabin crew, says. All pilots and flight attendants were men with years of experience and good Chinese language skills.

Bang has worked for Vietnam Airlines for 25 years and taken part in several evacuation flights in the past.

There were 15 people on board comprising three pilots, five flight attendants, two technicians, three doctors, and two coordinators.

Before departure, they had considered several scenarios in case some of the evacuees had symptoms of the new coronavirus infection and needed to be isolated.

They wore two layers of protective clothing and adult diapers since no one could go to the toilet.

Pham Hai Bang in the special flight. Photo courtesy of Pham Hai Bang.

Pham Hai Bang on board the special flight. Photo courtesy of Pham Hai Bang.

The flight took off in Hanoi at 9 p.m. on February 9 and reached Wuhan three hours later.

"When we arrived it was 3 degrees Celsius outside, but we were sweating since we had a lot of work to do," Bang says.

All the Vietnamese evacuees had to undergo health checks at Wuhan airport before they could leave.

Once on board, all the evacuees strictly complied with the procedures laid down and wore protective gear during the flight. Some children demurred at wearing the uncomfortable clothes, and Bang and his colleagues had to persuade them.

There was no meal, magazines or entertainment on the flight.

An obstetrician was on board because one of the passengers was 36 weeks pregnant. The flight attendants were standing by to deliver the baby on the plane.

When they reached Van Don Airport in the northern province of Quang Ninh early on February 10, everyone was relieved since the passengers were healthy and there was no delivery on board.

"Nine hours without drinking, eating and going to the restroom, but we were cheerful because of the successful airlift," Bang says, adding they were all happy to remove their protective outfit.

To avoid any contact with locals in Wuhan, the two technicians took charge of the aircraft in China before it left for Vietnam. There had also been spare equipment on board.

Do Tung Lam (L) and his colleague before heading to Wuhan. Photo courtesy of Do Tung Lam.

Do Tung Lam (L) and his colleague before leaving for Wuhan. Photo courtesy of Do Tung Lam.

Do Tung Lam, one of the technicians, says: "I was not worried but excited. My wife freaked out when she heard the news since. I convinced her and she was okay."

Lam had registered as soon as he heard they were looking for volunteers, surprising his wife and colleagues.

"I saw the great happiness in their eyes when they got on the plane to return to their homeland," he says, referring to the returnees.

As soon as it returned to Vietnam the plane was disinfected and left untouched for four hours to prevent infection.

The passengers and crew have all been quarantined for 14 days.

As of Tuesday Vietnam had 15 confirmed cases of infection. Six people have so far been discharged from hospital after making a full recovery.

The global death toll has climbed to 1,115 and the number of cases to 45,051. More than 4,000 patients have recovered.

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