MADRID — The Spanish police were searching on Saturday for up to a dozen passengers on a flight from Morocco to Turkey who fled into the Spanish island of Mallorca after their plane made an emergency landing at the airport there.
The plane, a Friday-evening Air Arabia Maroc flight from Casablanca to Istanbul, asked to divert to Palma de Mallorca to treat a person on board who had reported falling sick, according to Spanish air traffic authorities, and landed at around 8 p.m.
The passenger was taken to a hospital but soon discharged and detained, 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 said, about 20 other passengers fled the plane across the tarmac and managed to cross the airport security fences.
The chaos kept the airport, a major tourism hub, closed for more than three hours, and forced several other planes to divert.
It also brought a new aspect to Spain’s repeated struggles with illegal crossings, both by land from Morocco to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and from West Africa by sea, a route that has frequently had deadly consequences.
The police did not identify the man who was hospitalized, but said in a statement that he had apparently suffered a diabetic coma on the flight. He was reported by Spanish media to be Moroccan. A fellow passenger who accompanied him to the hospital also fled.
Five passengers were detained Friday night in the municipality of Marratxí, next to the airport, the police statement said. By 11 a.m. Saturday, the police had detained 11 people who had been on board the plane, according to a police official in Palma, who asked not to be named in order to speak while the search was ongoing.
The local authorities in Palma were expected to give 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, said that 13 planes had to be rerouted to Barcelona and other airports. More than 40 other flights suffered significant delays or cancellations.