LOS ANGELES - Nearly 200 passengers on a flight from El Salvador landed Monday in Los Angeles after spending nine hours aboard a grounded plane at a smaller airport as the airline and customs officials tried to work through apparent confusion.
Passengers described hours of hunger and frustration as they waited on the Taca airline flight on the tarmac at LA/Ontario International Airport after their plane was diverted because of heavy fog.
Eduardo Mejia, 34, of El Salvador said that he and other passengers were desperate to get off the airplane, and that some called 911 to report cramped conditions and illnesses.
Jose Reyes, 53, also of El Salvador, said he pleaded with the flight crew to let passengers leave the plane and put them on a shuttle bus to Los Angeles. Instead, fire and airport crews gave them water and crackers. No one was hospitalized.
"They didn't listen to us. They only said, 'I'm sorry,'" he said.
El Salvador-based Taca released a statement saying local authorities did not give permission for passengers to go through customs and enter the country. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Fleming said the airline did not ask for permission to let the passengers disembark.
"If they had, we would have provided a secure area to let them off the plane," Fleming said.
The Airbus A-321 aircraft with 191 passengers was diverted from Los Angeles International Airport late Sunday to the Ontario facility, about 45 miles to the east, because of heavy fog.
Including the flight time, passengers were on the plane for about 15 hours. The flight from San Salvador to Los Angeles usually takes 4 1/2 hours.
Passengers remained in Ontario until well after 8 a.m. The Taca plane was one of three international passenger flights diverted to Ontario, said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles International Airport.
Passengers aboard one of the airplanes were bused to LAX, and another made it to LAX after 2 a.m. Monday, Castles said.
The stranded airplane may have been kept longer in Ontario because it either lacked the required equipment to land in the fog or did not have a pilot certified to fly in heavy fog conditions, Castles said.