Plane Leaves Denver Runway, Catches Fire


A Continental Airlines jet taking off from Denver veered off the runway into a ravine and caught fire Saturday night, forcing passengers to evacuate on emergency slides and injuring nearly 40 people, officials said.

The passengers were treated and triaged at the airport and 38 people were transported to the hospital, said Denver International Airport manager of aviation Kim Day. Ten people have been transported to Denver Health, eight people to University of Colorado Hospital, four people to Swedish Medical Center and 15 to Aurora Medical Center.

One is severe and 14 have moderate and the rest have minor injuries, said Denver Health spokesman Scott Bookman. There were no reports of deaths. One person who is severe condition is at Denver Health but the extent of the injuries are not being released. That person has not been identified.

Continental Flight 1404 was leaving Denver for Houston, said Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. The weather in Denver was cold but not snowy at the time, and roads to the airport were dry.

The fire did spread to the cabin and the cockpit but only after 107 passengers and five crew members were evacuated from the aircraft.

"I closed my eyes, started to doze off... and we started getting up to speed, and right about the time I thought the plane should be starting to take off... we started to turn ... I opened my eyes and looked down out of the window, and we were still on the ground. We hit a bump, took flight for a little bit, everybody in the cabin started screaming a little bit, we hit another bump," said Alex Zamora, who was onboard the flight.

"At some point, the engine that was to my right seemed to blow up. I could see the fire out of the windows and we were still making forward progress. We hit something and stopped," Zamora said. "Someone went to open the emergency door on my side, but someone stopped him because obviously there was fire just outside the door."

Zamora said he was sitting in the emergency exit row on the right side of the plane but they couldn't exit that way.

"They got the emergency door open on the other side. We all piled out ... There was already smoke in the cabin and people were jumping over seats, in the front and rear had exits, but the people in the middle only had one exit because of the fire on my side. At first everyone was pushing and shoving, the wing was smashed on the side where we're exiting. People were slipping but everyohe got out OK. Everyone was pushing and shoving and everyone was falling a little because the wing was smashed on the side so people were slipping but most of us got out OK," Zamora said. "We started to run up to a hill towards an emergency building that houses fire trucks."

"I was sitting in the eighth row which is right over the engine that did blow up, or catch fire, and that's all we could see," Zamora said.

Zamora said he has a couple bruises, a couple cuts on his hand but there were some people reporting back pain, neck pain," Zamora said.

The fire on the plane has been extinguished and the aircraft remains intact. However, there is a lot of activity at the airport.

The passengers who were not injured were shuttled back to the airport.

Day said the airport is up and running with about a 40 minute delay.

The investigation is under way since it's not known what caused the plane to veer off Runway 34 Right at the Whiskey intersection. Temperatures are in the teens but it was not snowing at the time of the crash.

There have been no major crashes at DIA in its history.

Officials at the University of Colorado Hospital said they were ready to receive burn patients, but so far the injuries have been light.

"So far everyone we have been seeing has been in fair condition, which is a good thing," said hospital spokeswoman Tonya Ewers.

The National Transportation Board is on the scene investigating.

Continental released a statement Saturday night saying, "Continental and Denver International Airport are providing assistance to the passengers at this time. A number of injuries have been reported and authorities are transporting passengers and crew to area medical facilities as necessary. The company is in the process of collecting additional information and will communicate additional information once it is known."

The last time Denver experienced a major plane incident was at Stapleton International Airport on Sunday, Nov. 15, 1987, where 28 people died and 54 survived. It involved a Continental DC 9 headed for Boise, Idaho. It occurred in a heavy snowstorm. The plane had deiced but sat about 20 minutes before taking off on Runway 35 Left. The NTSB determined that the cause of the accident was the captain's failure to have the airplane deiced a second time after a delay before takeoff.

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