Friday 17 August 2018

Passengers tell of hail storm terror after Mexico airliner crash

Everyone on board survived as the flight from Durango to Mexico City crashed into a field near the runway.

The scene in Durango (Alberto Herrera via AP)
The scene in Durango (Alberto Herrera via AP)

By Christopher Sherman, Associated Press

Passengers have told of their terror as a burst of wind and pounding hail pummelled a jetliner minutes after take-off in northern Mexico and sent it smashing down into a field near the runway.

Frightened passengers scrambled to flee as flames and blinding black smoke erupted around them on Tuesday. All 103 on board survived the crash.

“It’s not every day you kind of fall from the sky and live to tell about it,” said Alberto Herrera, a 35-year-old webpage engineer from Chicago.

Jose Luis Corral, a 52-year-old business owner from Portland, Oregon, agreed.

“It’s a good thing we’re all alive,” he said, still wearing a neck brace from injuries he suffered in the crash.

“It’s so fast, terrifying to see all the people screaming,” added Mr Corral, who was one of four people who helped the plane’s badly injured pilot escape the blaze.

The pilot suffered a serious neck injury and remains in hospital. Forty-eight others were also injured, and 22 remained in hospital on Wednesday.

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Alberto Herrera said the take-off went bad, seemingly in an instant (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Mr Herrera said the skies were sunny as passengers boarded the Aeromexico flight from Durango to Mexico City, and the violent storm seemed to come from nowhere.

“When we were sitting on the plane there was a little drizzle, but nothing to worry about. It was just a little light rain, super light, like barely hitting the windows.”

But another passenger, Ramin Parsa, 32, of Los Angeles, said the weather was ominous even before take-off.

“The airplane actually was shaking before we even moved so I knew it was dangerous weather,” he said.

“I thought that we were going to have a delay until the weather clears up, but the pilot began to move so I thought that he knows what he is doing.

“I think it was a mistake by the pilot. He should not have taken off.”

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Jose Luis Corral was one of four people who helped the plane’s badly injured pilot escape the blaze (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Durango state governor Jose Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, but certainly the weather was not favourable.

Mr Herrera said the take-off went bad, seemingly in an instant.

“You start gaining speed and as soon as you start taking off all of the sudden the plane starts struggling and it’s getting hit with hail. The higher up we went into the storm, the heavier the hail got and more wind got to us.

“Then all of a sudden the plane starts rocking and it starts seriously, seriously moving around and then hitting the ground.

“We skidded and hit a second time and you saw the flames. You’re like, ‘This might be bad’.”

He said he braced for impact and yelled for others to do the same. The woman sitting next to him was able to hold onto her toddler, though the little girl suffered some scratches and may have hit her head on a seat.

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Ramin Parsa said the weather was ominous even before take-off (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Officials said the impact ripped both engines off the Embraer 190 jetliner, and fire immediately broke out in the wings.

“My window turned red because of the flames,” Mr Parsa said. He said he tried to kick out a window but could not.

He searched for an exit and at first could not find one because of all the smoke. Then suddenly he felt fresh air on his face. He was in front of the exit.

“Imagine you put 100 people in a room, in a dark room, pitch dark, filled with smoke and there’s a small door, everybody’s trying to find it. That’s what the situation was.”

At the back exit, Mr Herrera said the emergency slide had deployed but the fuselage was at an odd angle, so it was unusable and people had to jump to the ground.

The passengers walked back across the muddy field to the end of runway and waited there for emergency vehicles.

Mr Herrera said he was thankful to be alive.

“Me, I just came out of it with scratches. Other people are seriously injured.”

He credits both the pilot and the fact that the plane had not gained much altitude when the storm broke out for the good outcome.

Press Association

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