Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Some survive fiery plane crash

MADRID — It was a troubled flight from the beginning.

One attempt at takeoff was aborted. Departure was delayed by more than an hour. Passengers, many of them parents traveling with their young children, were grumpy and hot, eager to get on with it, to start their holidays in the alluring Canary Islands.

Several used cell phones to call relatives and report the problems. Finally, they said by phone, the flight was going to take off.

It tried. But seconds after Span­air Flight JK5022 barreled down a new runway at Madrid's Barajas airport and began to lift off, the jet jerked to the right and plowed into a tree-covered ravine. The fuselage broke into two pieces, maybe more, according to witnesses at the airport, and burst into flames.

At least 153 people were killed in the deadliest accident at Madrid's ultramodern airport in a quarter-century. Nineteen people, including two children, survived the fiery crash, though some were in critical condition.

"I pulled out about seven people alive," said Francisco Cruz, a private pilot who was among the people pressed into rescue service. "And then it was all dead bodies."

The accident was also the latest in mounting woes for Span­air, the Spanish unit of Scandinavia Airline Systems (SAS) and Spain's second largest carrier.

Spanair officials said it was too early to know the cause of the crash of the 15-year-old, U.S.-made McDonnell Douglas MD-82. The MD-82 is a type of MD-80, which by accident data alone is considered one of the safest airliners flying.

While preparing for a first takeoff attempt, the plane's pilot reported a breakdown in a gauge that measures temperature outside the plane. The gauge was fixed, delaying the departure, said Spanair spokeswoman Susana Vergara. It was on the second takeoff attempt that the plane crashed.

Sergio Allart, commercial director for Spanair, said the aircraft had passed a routine inspection in January. He said he could not speculate on the cause of the crash but offered the airliner's cooperation with investigators, who will include a team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane crashed on a hot, clear day around 2:45 p.m. at one of Europe's premier airports. Scores of ambulances, fire trucks and other rescuers descended on the site, while helicopters overhead poured fire-retardant spray on the wreckage. White and gray smoke billowed into the air, visible for miles.

"This is a huge tragedy," said Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, whose portfolio includes civil aviation.

Rescuers dragged hot-to-touch corpses from the wreckage throughout the afternoon, and the survivors, many burned and with broken bones, were rushed to hospitals. Helicopters flew over, dumping water on fires.

Some survivors were hurled from the plane by the impact and landed in a stream, where the water shielded them from burns, rescuers said. And some survivors were even able to walk away from the accident, said Ervigio Corral, head of emergency rescue services.

But, he said, he and the other emergency workers encountered a grim scene of widely scattered corpses, many of them children.

"The scene is devastating," said Pablo Albella, an emergency rescue worker. "The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction."

Alvarez said the jetliner had barely gotten airborne when it veered right, crashed and broke into pieces.

The Spanair flight was headed for Las Palmas, a popular summer vacation spot on one of the largest of the Canary archipelago off West Africa. Many of those on board were families destined for late-August holidays, and a number had originated in Germany and other parts of northern Europe, officials said. Two Chileans were also aboard, the airline said.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero interrupted his summer vacation in southern Spain and returned to Madrid, where a makeshift morgue was set up at the city's main convention center. Relatives began arriving Wednesday night to identify bodies, though many were burned beyond recognition.

Spanair had already been suffering from a number of setbacks, including heavy debt and orders from the parent company to lose 1,000 jobs and eliminate routes. Spanair pilots earlier Wednesday had threatened to go on strike to protest cutbacks. SAS has been trying unsuccessfully to sell the carrier.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.


Takeoff disasters

Some other deadly plane crashes that have occurred during takeoff:

Nov. 12, 2001: American Airlines Airbus A300 plunges to the ground after taking off from New York's JFK Airport, killing at least 265.

Aug. 16, 1987: A Northwest Airlines MD-82 crashes just after takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Airport; at least 156 are reported dead.

May 25, 1979: An engine drops off an American Airlines DC-10 during takeoff from O'Hare Airport in Chicago, killing at least 273.

March 27, 1977: A KLM 747 crashes into a Pan American 747 on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583.

Source: Facts on File, AP

Some survive fiery plane crash 08/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 1:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed when cars collide at Plant City intersection


    MULBERRY — The local high school has an enrollment of 1,000 but to some it feels like a tight-knit family. Many of Mulberry High School's students have spent all of their school days within the city limits, said principal Michael Young.

    Pepe Salgado, 18, was killed Friday along with his sister Frinzi Salgado-Diaz, 15, in a car crash in Plant City. They were passengers in a car driven by their cousin Edilberto Nava-Marcos, 18, who was transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center and was listed in critical condition. All three lived in Mulberry and attended Mulberry High School. [Polk County School District]
  2. Assisted living facility owner accused of sexually assaulting employee in Pinellas


    ST. PETERSBURG — An assisted living facility owner was arrested Thursday on charges that he sexually assaulted an employee, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

  3. Find serenity at Grand Cayman Island's Cemetery Beach



    Hey, cruisers, if you've been to Hell and back, snuggled with the stingrays and taken photos with the turtles at the Cayman Turtle Centre, you might be looking for something different on your next trip. (Guilty!)

    Good snorkeling can be found off shore at Cemetery Beach in Grand Cayman.
  4. Editorial: Honoring a solemn sacrifice


    For a nation still slogging away in Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones across the globe, this Memorial Day holiday marks the latest commemoration of sacrifice abroad, of uncertainty over America's role in securing the globe and of the country's great debt to its military families. The peace of yesterday is almost …

  5. Four Brandon middle school students face child porn charges related to sex video


    BRANDON — Four Burns Middle School students, ages 12 to 14, have been arrested on child pornography charges after one secretly recorded a girl in a sex act and the others posted it online, authorities said Friday.