Plane overshoots Jamaica runway; more than 40 hurt

December 23, 2009

KINGSTON, Jamaica – An American Airlines flight carrying 154 people skidded across a Jamaican runway in heavy rain, bouncing across the tarmac and injuring more than 40 people before it stopped just short of the Caribbean Sea, officials and witnesses said.

Jamaica Flight Overshoots Runway

Workers sift through debris surrounding the fuselage of American Airlines flight AA331 which crash landed overnight on a flight from Miami to Jamaica, just beyond the runway of Norman Manley International Airport, in Kingston Jamaica, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. More than 40 people were injured, at least 4 seriously, and there were no fatalities, according to officials, after the plane overshot the runway in Jamaica when it landed in heavy rain

Panicked passengers screamed and baggage burst from overhead bins as Flight 331 from Miami careened down the runway in the capital, Kingston, on Tuesday night, one passenger said.

The impact cracked the fuselage, crushed the left landing gear and separated both engines from the Boeing 737-800, airline spokesman Tim Smith said.

Crews evacuated dazed and bloodied passengers onto a beach from a cabin that smelled of smoke and jet fuel, passengers said. Rain poured through the plane’s broken roof, one said.

Some 44 people were taken to hospitals with broken bones and back pains and four were seriously hurt, airport and Jamaican government officials said. American Airlines said two people were admitted to the hospital and nobody suffered life-threatening injuries.

Heavy turbulence on the way to Jamaica had forced the crew to halt the beverage service three times before giving up, Pilar Abaurrea of Keene, New Hampshire, told The Associated Press by phone. The pilot warned of more turbulence just before landing but said it likely wouldn’t be much worse, she said.

“All of a sudden, when it hit the ground, the plane was kind of bouncing. Someone said the plane was skidding and there was panic,” she said.

U.S. investigators will analyze whether the plane should have been landing in such bad weather, Smith said, adding that other planes had landed safely in the heavy rain.

Passenger Natalie Morales Hendricks told NBC’s “Today” that the plane began to skid upon landing and “before I knew it, everything was black and we were crashing.”

“Everybody’s overhead baggage started to fall. Literally, it was like being in a car accident. People were screaming, I was screaming,” she said.

“There was smoke and debris everywhere,” after the plane halted, she said. “It was a mess. Everybody could smell jet fuel.”

Passenger Robert Mais told The Gleaner newspaper of Jamaica that he had heard the engine’s reverse throttle but that the plane didn’t seem to slow as it skittered down the runway.

The plane came to a halt about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) from the Caribbean Sea and passengers walked along the beach to be picked up by a bus, Mais said. Rain came through the roof of the darkened jet and baggage from the overhead compartments was strewn about the cabin, he said.

The plane originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington and took off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 p.m. and arrived in Kingston at 10:22 p.m. It was carrying 148 passengers and a crew of six, American said. The majority of those aboard were Jamaicans coming home for Christmas, Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said.

Smith said there were two “significant” cracks in the fuselage, and the engines are designed to separate from the wings during an accident as a safety measure.

A team of six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was traveling to Jamaica from Washington on Wednesday morning to assist a probe led by the island’s government, agency spokesman Keith Holloway said.

The airport reopened early Wednesday after officials had delayed flights because of concerns that the plane’s tail might be hindering visibility.

Four hundred passengers waited for their flights to be cleared for takeoff, Security Minister Dwight Nelson told Radio Jamaica.

Heavy rains that have pelted Jamaica’s eastern region for four days are expected to dissipate by Thursday. Authorities said the rains washed away a 7-year-old girl on Tuesday and led to a bus crash in which two people died.

By KIRK WRIGHT, Associated Press

Associated Press Writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica; Carol Druga in Atlanta, Georgia; and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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