Qantas Operates Boeing 747 Coronavirus Rescue Flight

Qantas is in the midst of a rescue operation to bring stranded Australians back home amid Coronavirus fears. A flight left Sydney earlier this morning to complete the first leg of the operation where travelers will be quarantined on Christmas Island.

Qantas joins the rescue mission by sending a flight to rescue stranded Australians. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Heading into Wuhan via Hong Kong

Earlier today, a Qantas flight left Sydney with a volunteer crew to bring stranded Australians back on home soil. The 747-400ER aircraft registered VH-OEE left Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport at 02:13 UTC on 2nd February 2020, according to Flight Radar 24. It completed flight number QF6031 in eight hours and 24 minutes arriving into Hong Kong International Airport at 10:37 UTC.

VH-OEE will complete the flight to Wuhan and return to Northern Australia. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

This is the first leg of an intricately planned mission to retrieve those stranded in Wuhan. Once in Hong Kong, the aircraft then took off for the internal flight between Hong Kong and Wuhan. The aircraft left at 15:27 UTC and was expected to arrive in Wuhan at 23:30. However, it was delayed and at the time of writing had an estimated arrival time of 16:58 UTC.


What will happen when Qantas arrives in Wuhan?

When the Qantas crew arrives in Wuhan there will be a quick turnaround to board passengers before flying out of the locked-down city. Flight QF6032 will leave Wuhan at 02:00 local time (18:00 UTC) if all goes to plan. That schedule should have given crews two and a half hours to board passengers. However, since the flight is running late, flight number QF6032 might likely take off around 19:30 UTC.


The aircraft will then fly from Wuhan to Learmonth Airport in Northern Australia with an expected arrival time of 11:00 on 3rd February (03:00 UTC). However, there are more legs to this epic mission.

The Qantas flight will fly between Wuhan and Learmonth on the way back. Photo: Great Circle Mapper

Qantas will then transfer passengers onto a designated quarantine zone with the cooperation from another Australian entity. Some reports suggest that the Australian air carrier Skytraders will use two of its A320 aircraft to fly passengers from Wuhan to Christmas Island. However, other reports stated that the Royal Australian Air Force will step in to transfer the passengers. The military would be expected to use a C-17 aircraft, sometimes used for transporting soldiers.


However the passengers arrive at Christmas Island, they will remain there for 14 days for assessment. A disaster response team will already be on the island awaiting the 600 Australian nationals.

Following suit from other nations

The rescue effort for those trapped in Wuhan is really something admirable. What’s more, Qantas is not alone in its humanitarian efforts. On 1st February 2020, a HiFly A380 was dispatched to Wuhan to rescue citizens on behalf of the EU. With its exceptional capacity, the aircraft proved perfect for the mission. It has 12 first class suites, 60 business class seats, and 399 economy seats.

By comparison, the narrow-bodied A320 which might be used to take passengers to Christmas Island will have a maximum seating capacity of 180. That depends on the type of seating arrangement. Likewise, a C-17 from the Royal Australian Air Force will sit a maximum of 188 passengers, although there is a lot more room if the extra space is needed.

We contacted Qantas to find out more information about its strategy for the flights but it was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. However, in a press release about the suspension of its China services the airline commented:

“Qantas is liaising closely with the Australian Government on the impact of these changes to citizens currently in mainland China, and continues to take advice from the World Health Organisation and Australia’s Chief Medical Officer regarding the Coronavirus in its decision-making.”

Have you been following Qantas’ rescue mission in Wuhan? Let us know in the comments below! 


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Michael Weaver

My son is one of the pilots. It is a big jump from when he started flying. On his first lesson he had to sit on a cushion so he could see out through the window..!! Happy days. I couldn’t imagine a more safe flight than flying with Qantas in a ubiquitous Boeing 747!


Has anyone else noticed the curious flight path that QF 6032 is currently taking. It looked 100% on target for Darwin but took a sharp turn to trace the Western Australian coast to Learmonth. Possibly for simplicity or foreign government approval? Anyway, it’ll get there eventually and hopefully staff will make it home eventually too!

Mike Sheen

@Chris that’s quite normal – aircraft normally head towards major IFR waypoints, and when they get there or near there, head towards the next.


I’ve been tracking the flight, it took an much longr path than the simply north-south one that you’d expect. It headed in the direction of Darwin, then shortly before it would reach Darwin, it turned to head to Learmonth. Guess it was following the airways, but still a real waste of fuel!


VH-OEE just landed in Sydney…