MADRID — The Spanish police were seeking on Saturday for up to a dozen passengers on a flight from Morocco to Turkey who fled onto the Spanish island of Mallorca after their jet made an emergency landing at the airport there.
The jet, a Friday-evening Air Arabia Maroc flight from Casablanca to Istanbul, sought to divert to Palma de Mallorca to treat a person on board who had reported falling sick, according to Spanish air traffic officials, and arrived at around 8 p.m.
The passenger was transported to a hospital but soon dismissed and jailed, on suspicion that he had faked illness in order to allow himself and others to enter Spain illegally, according to the police.
While he was being hospitalized, the police statement stated, some 20 other passengers escaped the plane across the tarmac and managed to cross the airport security gates.
The commotion kept the airport, a key tourism hub, closed for more than three hours, and prompted many other planes to reroute.
It also brought a new aspect to Spain’s recurring struggles with illegal crossings, both by land from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and from West Africa by sea, a path that has repeatedly had disastrous repercussions.
The police did not identify the individual who was hospitalized, but stated in a statement that he had likely suffered a diabetic coma during the flight. He was claimed by Spanish media to be Moroccan. A fellow traveler who followed him to the hospital also fled.
Five passengers were held Friday night in the municipality of Marratxí, near to the airport, the police statement stated. By 11 a.m. Saturday, the police had apprehended 11 persons who had been on board the jet, according to a police official in Palma, who asked not to be named in order to comment while the search was ongoing.
The local authorities in Palma were anticipated to reveal further details about the escape and search for the missing passengers later on Saturday.
Palma’s airport reopened shortly before midnight. Aena, Spain’s national airport operator, stated that 13 planes had to be redirected to Barcelona and other airports. More than 40 additional flights faced substantial delays or cancellations.