A Chinese military aircraft landed for the first time at a new airport on an island Beijing had built in a contested part of the South China Sea on Sunday to rescue three critically ill construction workers.
The aircraft made the emergency landing while patrolling the area, to transfer the three severely ill workers from Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Yongshu Jiao, on the Spratly Islands, or Nansha Islands, to the city of Sanya in Hainan province, PLA Daily reported.
Chinese military aircraft likely to land at new airport in disputed area of South China Sea in coming months, says ex-PLA officer
The newspaper said the navy sent the aircraft after receiving an emergency call from the construction site on the reef. The three workers needed to be taken to more advanced medical facilities because of the site’s limited health-care equipment, it added.
It was the first time China’s military had publicly admitted landing an aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef, Global Times reported.
One of the three workers was suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding, another had spinal fractures, and the third was suspected to be suffering from kidney stones or appendicitis.
Chinese civilian aircraft make test run to Fiery Cross Reef in South China Sea
All three were admitted to a hospital in Sanya, Hainan province, after the aircraft touched down at Sanya Phoenix International Airport on Sunday afternoon.
The aircraft’s landing on Fiery Cross Reef was the first by a military plane since the airport was reportedly completed in January, when a civilian aircraft carried out flight tests.
Chinese experts said the successful rescue mission by the Y-8 patrol aircraft proved that the reef’s airport and runways were ready for military use, Wang Yanan, managing editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, was quoted by Global Times as saying.
It also showed that China would now be able to control the airspace over an area stretching up to 1,000 km, Wang said.
Beijing rejects Vietnam protest over South China Sea landing
Another naval expert, Zhang Junshe, said the mission also proved that China’s construction in the South China Sea had made it possible to carry out humanitarian aid efforts.
More than US$5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims in the region.