Exclusive: Cary man stuck on tarmac in Canada for 19 hours speaks about ordeal

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Mike Sullivan expected to spend 16 hours or more in the air on his way to Hong Kong on Saturday.

He didn't expect to spend that time on a runway in Newfoundland, Canada.

Sullivan, a Cary resident, was on his way to Asia, a trip he makes six to eight times a year for business.

"We had 100 people doing our Chinese New Year dinner," he said. It's the only time those 100 people get together in one spot. As soon as I missed that, the motivation to make the trip decreased significantly."

Sullivan began the trip Saturday morning at RDU. He flew to Newark Liberty International Airport for a planned layover before boarding flight 179 non-stop to Hong Kong. Thirty minutes into the flight, Sullivan said crew members began asking whether there were doctors on the plane.

He said they found medical professionals about three hours into the flight and decided to head back to Newark. But they didn't go back.

"We didn't go back to Newark and we landed in the middle of nowhere," he said. "It was quite bizarre. We were in Newfoundland."

Once the sick passenger was taken off the plane, the crew discovered a problem -- a broken door. Sullivan said information stopped coming in at that point.

"I really felt sorry for the crew because they were in the same situation we were," he said. "It seems they weren't getting any support out of United."

United said: "The airport did not have customs officers overnight so we were not able to let customers depart the aircraft."

In all, Sullivan and others waited for 19 hours on the tarmac. Eventually, another plane came and Sullivan arrived at RDU on Sunday night before midnight.

"Everybody was very calm. I didn't see a single irate passenger. The crew was very empathetic," Sullivan said. "Nobody was getting dehydrated, nobody was starving and the lavatories were functioning. It was just boring and long. United needs to put more resources into solving the original problem than trying to soothe people's emotions after the fact. In this case, they were lucky the crew and the passengers were all calm."

In regard to the incident, United said:

"United Flight 179 traveling from Newark Liberty International Airport to Hong Kong International Airport diverted to Goose Bay Airport in Newfoundland, Canada because of a medical emergency onboard. Medical personnel met the aircraft at the gate and the customer was transported to a local hospital. Prior to departure, the aircraft experienced a mechanical issue. The airport did not have customs officers overnight so we were not able to let customers depart the aircraft. An alternative aircraft was flown in and transported customers and their luggage back to Newark. Upon arrival, customers received reimbursement, compensation, hotel accommodations, and meals. We apologized to our customer for this experience and our crew and operations did everything possible to assist customers during the delay."
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