August 21, 2008

At Least 153 Dead in Madrid Airport Crash — Jet Filled With Vacationers Gets Airborne, Then Plunges

By Harold Heckle

MADRID, Spain - A jetliner heading to the popular Canary Islands vacation resort crashed during takeoff Wednesday, turning a wooded area off the end of a runway into a hellish scene of charred bodies and smoldering wreckage.

At least 153 people were believed dead - Spain's worst air disaster in nearly 25 years.

Only 19 people survived the midafternoon crash of the Spanair MD- 82 at Madrid's Barajas International Airport, and some were in critical condition, said Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, whose agency oversees civil aviation.

The airline didn't release a death toll but said the plane carried 172 crew members and passengers, including two babies and 20 youngsters. There was no word on how many children died.

As smoke billowed from the wreckage, dozens of fire trucks and ambulances rushed to help. Helicopters flew over, dumping water on fires.

"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."

Rescuers rushed the few survivors to hospitals while emergency workers shrouded the dead in white sheets. Later, a convoy of black hearses rolled onto the airport grounds to carry bodies to a makeshift morgue set up at Madrid's main convention center - the facility used for relatives to identify bodies after the 2004 Islamic terror bombings that killed 191 people on commuter trains.

Alvarez said the jetliner had just gotten airborne when it veered right, crashed and broke into pieces. She said investigators ruled out foul play and considered the crash an accident. The plane's flight data recorders had been recovered.

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. It was on the second takeoff attempt that the plane crashed.

Spanair spokesman Sergio Allard said the plane last passed an inspection in January and no problems with it had been reported since then. The plane is 15 years old and has been owned by Spanair, a Spanish company wholly owned by Scandinavian Airlines, for the past nine.

The air disaster was Spain's worst since 1983, when a Boeing 747 operated by the Colombian airline Avianca crashed near Madrid on landing approach, killing 181.

After being informed of the crash, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero broke off his vacation in southern Spain and rushed back to Madrid and the airport.


Deadly departures

Some other major plane crashes during takeoff:

May 5, 2007: Kenya Airways Boeing 737-800 crashes shortly after takeoff from Douala, Cameroon, killing at least 114 people.

May 4, 2002: EAS Airlines BAC 1-11 smashes into a crowded suburb of Kano, Nigeria, shortly after takeoff; 154 people are killed from the plane and on the ground.

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

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

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

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

Sources: Facts on File; AP Reports


Originally published by Harold Heckle Associated Press .

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