US evacuation flight from China's coronavirus zone rerouted to March Air Reserve Base

All passengers have passed health screenings during a layover in Alaska.

January 29, 2020, 6:29 AM

The U.S. government's chartered flight evacuating American consulate staffers and private U.S. citizens from the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan, China, has been rerouted from its original California destination to a nearby military base.

The flight, with more than 200 people aboard, is now scheduled to arrive at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, about 30 miles from where the flight was originally scheduled to land, in Ontario, California, just outside of Los Angeles.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement Tuesday night Pacific time after informing California officials about the change.

The plane touched down in Anchorage, Alaska, at around 9:30 p.m. local time to be refueled before heading on to California for an expected Wednesday morning arrival.

"A big cheer let out on the plane when we landed," passenger Patrick Stockstill said after arriving in Anchorage.

A U.S. government chartered flight evacuating American consulate staffers and private U.S. citizens from the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan, China, arrives at Anchorage International Airport en route to California, Jan, 28, 2020.
ABC News

"I'm tired and exhausted mentally and physically," said the Rhode Island resident, "but happy to be back and just really grateful the United States government came through for us."

The plane's 201 passengers underwent two sets of health screenings upon arrival in Anchorage, and all were approved to continue on to California, officials said in a press briefing early Wednesday morning.

Passengers erupted into cheers once they were all cleared, officials said. Authorities had said earlier that anyone who got sick en route to Alaska could be separated from the group in Anchorage and flown onward independently.

All passengers were also screened twice before leaving China, said officials.

Upon arrival in California, all passengers will be quarantined for at least three days and monitored by the CDC, per authorities. Those who show signs of the illness and need to be tested could be held for as many as 14 days.

While around 4,500 people have been sickened in China, the CDC said on Monday that the disease is "not spreading" in the U.S. There have been five confirmed cases so far -- all of whom traveled to Wuhan.

A closed entrance at the north terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, where a flight plane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China is expected, is seen Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.
Mark Thiessen/AP

The U.S. consulate general evacuated the majority of its staff and has urged U.S. citizens not to travel to Hubei province, all but closing its doors amid the outbreak that has rattled nerves around the world.

Seats on the charter flight were open to American citizens, with an alert sent Sunday notifying those in China and registered with the U.S. mission. American citizens were required to pay for their seat, and capacity was limited, with priority given to those most at risk of infection, per the spokesperson.

The majority of the 200 seats on board the flight went to private citizens, with less than a quarter needed for U.S. personnel and their families.

The initial notice that went out Sunday said the flight would travel to San Francisco, but the director of San Francisco International Airport and the State Department said Monday that was no longer true.

Staff members take passengers' body temperature at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 21, 2020.
Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Newscom

Trucks carrying drinking water, portable showers, and water storage tanks were seen arriving Tuesday at Ontario International, a small airport in San Bernardino County that serves as an official U.S. government repatriation center for the West Coast.

"Ontario International Airport (ONT) is working closely with our federal, state, county and city partners to plan for the possibility of a flight carrying U.S. government officials and private citizens returning this week from Wuhan, China," Ontario International Airport said in a statement Monday, before the plane's flight plan was changed. Airport officials said they had "conducted extensive training in managing situations such as this. In the event that the returning passengers do arrive at ONT, preparations are being made to ensure that proper health, safety and security procedures are followed."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talks with residents at Wuhan Wushang Supermarket in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 27, 2020
Li Tao/Xinhua via Newscom

The State Department raised its travel advisory for China on Monday, urging American citizens to "reconsider travel" to the whole country. There has been a "do not travel" warning in place since Thursday for Hubei province when the consulate general announced it was pulling out all nonemergency personnel.

The CDC raised its travel warning on Tuesday to match the State Department's, urging all travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to China.

At least 106 people have died from the illness in China, mostly in Wuhan.

ABC News's Connor Burton contributed to this report from Ontario, California.

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