August 3, 2005

Darkness, panic, safety after Toronto plane crash

By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - Passengers aboard a doomed Air France
Airbus described on Tuesday how they ran for their lives to
escape a plane that bounced like a roller coaster into a gully
before bursting into flames at the edge of Toronto's
international airport.

"It was a hell of a roller coaster going into the ravine.
The people around me, everyone was running like crazy just in
case there was an explosion," crash survivor Roel Bramar told
CBC Television.

"I was at the very back of the plane and saw that there was
fire outside. I was the second person off the plane. Down the

All 309 passengers and crew survived the crash, abandoning
the aircraft down emergency escape chutes and racing toward
safety as the aircraft began to burn. Officials said about 24
people had suffered minor injuries.

"First you kind of do the emergency duck down thing until
the plane came to a stop, that's when we started seeing the
engine on fire," said passenger John Abedrabbo. "Obviously some
people were panicking but it wasn't bad."

Olivier Dubos, who was sitting at the back of the plane,
told CTV television that the plane appeared to land "extremely
fast" after a 20 minute delay caused by storm conditions at the
airport. Then there was darkness, as the plane careened out of
control and crashed into a ravine.

"Just before we landed the plane was going extremely fast
but we thought that was because of the rain or heavy winds or
whatever," he said. "Then there was no more light in the plane.
It was really scary. Very, very scary.

"And then we went off the runway, we went into the
ravine... The plane stopped. We opened the emergency doors and
basically there were lots of flames around. We just tried to
escape, sliding from the plane."

Dazed survivors made their way to 401 highway, a multilane
road that adjoins Toronto's Pearson International Airport,
flagging down commuters who had slowed down as flames and thick
black smoke billowed from the wrecked plane.

Rayed Hantach said his brother Mohammed had phoned from the
side of the road to tell him he was safe, after a woman stopped
to help and offered her cell phone.

"When it finally stopped some of the guys jumped off the
plane. My brother was one of them and he made his way to the
401," Rayed Hantach said, as he waited at the airport.

"Some Good Samaritan drivers pulled over. A lady saw him,
pulled over and he used her cell phone to call me. I'm relieved
that he's safe and on the ground, thank God."

Rescued passengers were taken to an airport hotel, and
hustled away from the throngs of TV cameras and journalists.

Commuter Debbi Wilkes was driving through the storm when
she saw a bolt of lighting.

"We did not know it was a plane at that time. There were
streaks of fire on top of the runway and down in the field,"
she said.

(Additional reporting by Franco Pingue)