Miami-Madrid Flight Diverts to Military Base in the Middle of the Atlantic
Overnight Friday, an Iberia flight from Miami (MIA) to Madrid (MAD) squawked 7700 — indicating an emergency — and diverted to a Portuguese Air Force base in the Azores.
According to FlightRadar24's tracking of the flight, the pilots began to gradually descend and turn toward Lajes Field on Terceira Island as the flight neared the Azores. At 10:50pm Eastern time and at 23,000 feet, the pilots set the transponder code to 7700, indicating to nearby air traffic of an emergency. It's unclear if the pilots declared an official emergency, or the lesser "pan-pan" in this situation.
It's being reported that the pilots received an indication of smoke in the crew rest area. On an A330, the crew rest area is located below the main deck and near the cargo area. Due to the proximity, the pilots may have been concerned of an issue in the cargo hold that the crew was unable to check in-flight.
At 11:34pm Eastern time, the flight safely landed on the military-owned Lajes Field. Thankfully passengers weren't stuck at the military base for long. After approximately five hours on the ground, the Airbus A330 took off from Terceira at 4:31am Eastern time for the 1,250-mile flight to Madrid. The aircraft landed safely in Madrid at 6:59am Eastern time/12:59pm local time, arriving 5:18 hours after its originally-scheduled arrival time.
Thanks to its long runway and convenient location in the Atlantic, Lajes Field is no stranger to civilian aircraft diversions. Earlier this year, an American Airlines 767 declared an emergency and diverted to the Air Force base after experiencing "multiple system failures." One of the runway's most famous diversions happened in 2001 when Air Transat flight 236 developed a leak and ran out of fuel over the Atlantic. Pilots were able to guide the aircraft-turned-glider to the fortuitously located Lajes Field.