Passengers survive horror crash landing in Jamaica

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

KINGSTON (AFP) – An American Airlines jet overshot the runway at a Jamaican airport and ended up in a mangled mess on a beach, but all 154 passengers and crew survived with 91 mainly minor injuries, officials said.

Flight AA 331 from Miami arrived in heavy rain at Kingston airport late Tuesday.

"The aircraft totally overshot the runway and ended up over the road in the sand," said Paul Hall, senior vice president of operations at Norman Manley International Airport.

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

Passengers had initially applauded what appeared to be a safe landing at the popular winter sun destination, according to media reports.

But the Boeing 737 jet ploughed through the perimeter fence, skidded across a road and ended up on the beachfront. The airport was immediately closed and all flights diverted.

Information Minister Daryl Vaz said 91 people were treated in hospital and that none of the injuries were deemed critical, CNN reported. He said four passengers may have to stay overnight at hospital.

"The majority of injuries are broken bones and of course cuts and bruises and badly shaken up," Vaz said in the report on CNN's website.

"Preliminary reports indicate there are no serious injuries," American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said in a recorded statement.

The flight had originated at Washington's Reagan National Airport and stopped at Miami before travelling on to Kingston where it crash landed at about 10:22pm (0322 GMT Wednesday).

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

She criticised 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."

Hall told reporters however that an emergency crew was at the scene within five minutes, by 10:27 pm.

"None of the injuries appear to be life threatening at this point, they are just minor scrapes," he said. "We are investigating what exactly happened."

The head of TV Jamaica, Milton Walker, earlier told CNN that a passenger told him how the plane landed normally and the passengers applauded.

"Then there was a loud bang," Walker said. "That's when they (the passengers) knew something was wrong, when oxygen masks deployed and also they noticed the structure of the fuselage started to crumble.

"My information is that it's broken into three pieces," he said.

The airline would not speculate on the cause of the crash, Smith said, adding that no other details could be confirmed.

The airline is working with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Authority, he said.

Typically the NTSB sends teams to the scene of crashes to determine their cause.

The airport was closed for investigators to examine the scene and for authorities to determine if the runway was safe for take-offs and landings.

All flights were diverted to Montego Bay, on the western end of Jamaica.



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