One of those arrested. | Guillermo Esteban


Police sources have, unofficially, referred to a "flying patera" - patera is the Spanish word used to describe the small migrant boats that arrive in Mallorca. The joint Guardia Civil-National Police investigation into events on Friday at the airport is seeking to establish whether the Air Arabia Maroc Airbus A320 had indeed become a flying patera - whether some or all of the Moroccan passengers on board had planned to run off the plane, taking advantage of what proved to be a faked medical emergency.

The plane landed at Son Sant Joan at 6.51pm. A doctor among the 151 passengers had confirmed that one of them was suffering from a diabetic coma. This passenger and another, apparently his companion, were taken to Son Llàtzer Hospital.

The "escape" of the passengers didn't occur until 8.17pm. The pilot had asked to refuel and for a change to the flight plan. The plane door remained open. Twenty-one passengers got up from their seats and pushed past a flight attendant. They ran down onto the tarmac, heading in different directions. A minute later, airspace was closed because of safety concerns.

The two passengers who had been taken to Son Llàzter were arrested. One attempted to escape and the other had seemingly faked his illness, or had even induced himself into a diabetic coma in order to force an emergency landing.

The Guardia Civil and National Police surrounded the plane and the immediate perimeter. One passenger was arrested after he attacked an officer. Another passenger was found hiding very close to the plane, while others managed to climb over the perimeter fence, mainly in the direction of Marratxí.

From then on until 9.30 on Saturday morning, police began to intercept people who had been on the plane. One was on the Calle Manacor, at the entrance to Palma. Another was discovered in pine woods close to the airport, suffering from the cold because he had spent the night hiding there. In total, 12 had been arrested; the search continues for the others.

They all face charges of crimes against immigration law, but other charges could also be made. In some instances, it is understood that they have refused to make statements. Where these have been made, there are apparently major contradictions.

The investigation is seeking to clarify if the group had planned the escape, feigning the passenger's diabetic coma, or if it was a spontaneous escape, when they discovered that they were on European soil. A third possibility is also being considered: that only some of the 24 had been organised and that the rest, seeing people running off, did likewise in seeking to stay in Mallorca and not fly to Turkey, the flight's destination.

The Airbus A320 remained at the airport until 2.20am on Saturday, when it received authorisation to resume the flight. But rather than the intended destination, Istanbul, it flew back to Casablanca.