The flight was like a ‘lifeboat’ leaving Wuhan
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The flight was like a ‘lifeboat’ leaving Wuhan

Francisco Javier Martínez, 61-year-old pilot, was assigned to control flight PLM471P to evacuate British and Spanish citizens from Wuhan city, Hubei province, China during the pneumonia epidemic caused by the new coronavirus (nCoV).

Martínez fully understood the extraordinary nature of the flight, but it was only as his Boeing 747 neared landing that the captain realized exactly what he, the crew and a small group of British military medical staff were getting into.

`Wuhan looked like a desert. There was no traffic on the highway and the airport was completely deserted,` he said about the flight to evacuate citizens on January 31.

`It was like a bomb had exploded, leaving the city completely empty. No people, no cars, no movement, nothing. Everything was beyond our imagination,` the captain added.

Wamos Air’s chartered plane, carrying British citizens evacuated from Wuhan, landed at Brize Norton base airport, Oxfordshire county, England on January 31.

Mr. Martínez, who has been a pilot for 40 years, received a call from the leaders of Wamos Air on the morning of January 27 asking `are you willing to control the repatriation flight of 120 people, most of them?`

Martínez had the right to refuse, but he agreed, and so did the three other pilots, 13 crew members, two mechanics and a cargo handler.

At 6:00 p.m. on January 28, the Boeing 747 took off from Barajas airport, capital Madrid, to Hanoi, the stopover on the journey to Wuhan.

`British military doctors taught us how to wear masks and gloves, and brief information about the coronavirus and how it is transmitted,` Mr. Martínez said.

After 20 hours of rest in Hanoi, the crew took control of the plane and departed for Wuhan.

`From the beginning, we knew we were doing something important, but when we flew from Hanoi to Wuhan, we realized we were on a very important rescue mission,` he said.

When they landed in Wuhan at 2:59 p.m. on January 31, they were greeted by a `ghost city` and two Chinese officials in full protective suits.

Passengers then began to board the plane.

The flight from Wuhan to Brize Norton base, Oxfordshire, England, took 11 hours and 40 minutes and, according to the captain, was `very pleasant` because the weather in the areas they passed through was favorable.

`The crew always checks to see if everyone is well and calm, if there are any cases that need attention,` he said.

British citizens and doctors got off the plane at Brize Norton, while Spanish doctors boarded the plane to continue to the Torrejón base, on the outskirts of Madrid.

The flight was like a 'lifeboat' leaving Wuhan

British citizens evacuated from Wuhan arrived at Brize Norton base airport, Oxfordshire county, England on January 31.

Martínez and his crew were placed on leave afterward and were not required to quarantine.

`The memory I remember most will be of a crew working together very united,` he said.

A friend joked that Martínez was a hero.

The flight was like a 'lifeboat' leaving Wuhan

Countries with patients infected with nCoV.

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