Investigation underway into Jamaica crash landing

Thursday, December 24, 2009

KINGSTON (AFP) – US investigators have arrived in Jamaica to investigate the crash of an American Airlines jet that left a mangled mess on a beach but no fatalities after overshooting an airport runway.

Security was still tight around the wrecked remains of the Boeing 737-800 jet -- one of American's latest models -- that ploughed through the perimeter fence late Tuesday, skidded across a road and ended up just short of the Caribbean Sea.

One of the aircraft's engines broke off, part of the landing gear smashed and the body of the plane was cracked.

Stunned passengers staggered out of the aircraft, some with broken bones, cuts and bruises, before dozens were rushed to local hospitals.

The airport was immediately closed and all flights diverted.

The airline said that only seven passengers were admitted to area hospitals for treatment, out of 148 passengers and six crew.

"About 76 American citizens were on board," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington, adding that US consular officials in Jamaica were helping arrange new travel documents for those who left their passports on the plane.

Crowley said 40 or 50 of the Americans were taken to two area hospitals with minor injuries, but that "four of those we think are serious injuries."

The US National Transportation Safety Board dispatched five aviation specialists led by senior air safety investigator John Lovell to assist the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority in reviewing the incident, which took place under heavy rain.

They were also accompanied by technical advisers from the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines, Boeing Aircraft Company and GE Aircraft Engines.

"All I know is that the plane landed and fell apart," passenger Betrie Carr-Cameron told AFP, adding that after the jet came to a halt people immediately rushed for the exits, where emergency slides were deployed.

"People were just milling around outside, freaking out," passenger Natalie Morales Hendricks told NBC's "Today" show. "There was blood... it was a mess, as you can imagine. You could smell jet fuel."

Passengers, who had first applauded what appeared to be a safe landing at the popular winter sun destination, said they did not initially realize the plane was skidding across the runway.

"I was looking at the ground trying to see if that was true, and before I knew it, you know, everything was black and we were crashing," recalled Hendricks.

Information Minister Daryl Vaz told CNN that 91 "badly shaken up" people were initially treated in hospital but that none of the injuries were deemed critical.

Flight 331 had originated at Washington's Reagan National Airport and stopped in Miami before traveling on to Kingston, where it crash landed at about 10:22 pm (0322 GMT Wednesday).

Passenger Carr-Cameron criticized the airport's emergency response. "We were there for about 20 minutes or more and there was no one there," she said. "What if there was a fire? We would've all died."

A spokesman for American Airlines, however, said that an emergency crew was at the scene within five minutes.

"The care of our passengers and crew members remains our highest priority, and we are grateful for the professionalism of our crew members who safely evacuated the aircraft," said American Airlines chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey.

Passenger reports said the plane initially seemed to have landed normally but then there was a loud bang before oxygen masks dropped and the fuselage began to crumble.

The airport was temporarily closed for investigators to examine the scene and for authorities to determine whether the runway was safe for take-offs and landings. Flights were diverted to Montego Bay, on the western end of Jamaica.



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