A Delta flight from Beijing to Seattle had to make an unscheduled landing on the island of Shemya in the Aleutian Islands on Christmas Eve after experiencing a mechanical problem. Passengers aboard Delta flight DL128 were forced to spend 12 hours at Eareckson Air Station on the remote island in the Aleutian Islands archipelago southwest of Alaska, which is roughly 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska.

The mechanical problem, which was described as a “potential engine issue,” rendered the plane unsafe to fly, therefore, Delta had to dispatch another plane from Seattle to pick up the nearly 200 passengers, who finally made it home for Christmas. The plane, Delta Flight 128, was a Boeing 767-300ER, which entered service with American Airlines in 1988. There are currently 376 models in service with its main competitor being the Airbus A330-200.


Aside from the new plane, Delta also sent maintenance technicians, customer service representatives and a new flight crew to the island. Eareckson Air Station serves as an Air Force refueling station and an emergency landing strip for civilian aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration has not commented on the incident as a result of the government shutdown.

Zhen Tian, 22, a graduate student at the University of Washington was awaiting the arrival of her parents in Seattle. She was particularly worried about her mother, who was traveling internationally for the first time. “I bet she is so nervous by now,” Zhen said.

At 6 am on Monday, Zhen checked the flight status online to make sure there had been no delays. It was then that she saw the plane had been diverted to Alaska. She contacted Delta, which confirmed the flight had arrived safely in Shemya. “Delta apologizes to customers for the delay and has sent another aircraft to continue the flight to Seattle,” said Delta spokesperson Savannah Huddleston. “The safety of our customers and crew is always Delta’s top priority.”

Prakhar Khanduja, a passenger aboard Delta Flight 128, tweeted, "Finally on the way to Seattle after spending the last 12 hours on an island in the middle of Pacific North Pole. Wish I hadn’t left PEK. #DL128."

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The US Air Force base on Shemya opened in 1943. In 1956, Northwest Airlines, which is no longer in service, leased the island from the federal government to use as a refueling station for the Orient Express service between the US and Asia. Although remote, this is not the first time a plane has made an emergency landing on Shemya. In 1993, China Eastern flight 538 was forced to land after a crew member unintentionally deployed the plane’s slats while the plane was midair. The mishap resulted in two deaths and serious injuries to several passengers and members of the crew.