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Could've walked to L.A. faster

Passengers on a flight from El Salvador sit for nine hours at Ontario.

December 02, 2008|James Wagner | Wagner is a Times staff writer.

Normally, a flight from San Salvador to Los Angeles takes 4 1/2 hours.

On Sunday, however, a TACA International Airlines flight took nearly 14 hours, with nine of them spent on the ground as passengers clamored for relief.

Dense fog forced Flight 670, en route to Los Angeles International Airport, to be diverted to Ontario International Airport about midnight, where it sat on the tarmac until mid-morning.

Just why the passengers were forced to wait for so long on the cramped aircraft remained a matter of dispute Monday.

According to the air carrier, authorities at the Ontario airport did not allow the plane's 193 passengers to disembark. Local authorities, according to the TACA statement, did not want passengers to pass through customs and enter the country.

Airport officials, however, gave a different story.

According to a statement from Los Angeles World Airports, which operates the Ontario facility, TACA never asked that passengers be allowed to exit the aircraft.

The airline planned to take off from the airport soon after it refueled, according to the airport agency. But as the plane waited for fog to clear at LAX, the airline did not request that U.S. Customs and Border Protection process passengers so they could stretch their legs or sit in the terminal.

Although the airport did not have customs staff on hand to process exiting passengers, it could have summoned them, according to the airport agency.

"It is also unknown why, even after suggested, TACA staff did not request clearance to have their passengers deplane for humanitarian reasons," the agency said in a prepared statement.

Water and snacks were provided to passengers about 4 a.m. by airport staff, and emergency responders received "a few reports" of passenger illnesses, airport officials said. No one was hospitalized.

The TACA flight's crew was changed about 7 a.m. because it had run longer than its allotted hours, Ontario airport spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin said.

After a normal servicing Monday morning, Flight 670 finally departed Ontario just before 9 a.m. and landed safely at LAX nearly 30 minutes later.

The TACA plane was one of three international passenger flights diverted to Ontario on Monday, said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for LAX.

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james.wagner@latimes.com

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