Jetliner Burns After Skidding Off Toronto Runway, All Survive

A jetliner carrying 309 people skidded off a runway while landing in a thunderstorm, sliding into a ravine and breaking into pieces, but remarkably everyone aboard survived by jumping to safety in the moments before the plane burst into flames.


TORONTO (AP) -- A jetliner carrying 309 people skidded off a runway while landing in a thunderstorm, sliding into a ravine and breaking into pieces, but remarkably everyone aboard survived by jumping to safety in the moments before the plane burst into flames.

Some 43 passengers suffered minor injuries in the 4:03 p.m. (2003 GMT) Tuesday crash landing of Air France Flight 358 from Paris _ the first time an Airbus A340 had crashed in its 13 years of commercial service.

The plane, carrying 297 passengers and 12 crew, overran the runway by 200 yards (meters) at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, said Steve Shaw, a vice president of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.

While Shaw said there were 43 injured passengers, Air France said in a statement that 22 passengers were treated for minor injuries.

The aircraft skidded down a slope into a wooded area next to one of Canada's busiest highways, and some survivors said that passengers scrambled up to the road to catch rides with passing cars.

Relatives and friends were taken to the Sheraton hotel at the airport and asked to wait there until the passengers joined them.

Several hours later, passengers in red blankets were taken on buses to the airport Sheraton to meet with their loved ones and friends. Some were distressed that they had to go through customs before they were reunited.

Gwen Dunlop of Toronto said she was returning from vacation in France.

''It happened so quickly,'' she said. ''It was a little bit like being in a movie.''

She said at first the passengers believed they had landed safely and clapped with relief.

''Only seconds later it started really moving and obviously it wasn't OK,'' said Dunlop. ''At some point the wing was off. The oxygen masks never came down; the plane was filling up with smoke.''

She said one of the flight attendants tried to calm passengers and tell them that everything was fine.

''One of the hostesses said, 'You can calm down, it's OK,' and yet the plane was on fire and smoke was pouring in,'' Dunlop told The AP. I don't like to criticize, but the staff did not seem helpful or prepared.''

Dunlop, who was being ushered away from journalists by airport officials, said some passengers went down emergency chutes, while others just jumped out on their own.

''We were all trying to go up a hill; it was all mud and we lost our shoes. We were just scrambling, people with children.''

She said it was pouring rain and lightning and thunder added to the drama. ''We were just thrown into the weather.''

Gay Bopaul said her husband called her on a cell phone shortly after the crash, hiding under a bridge. He said the passengers were all sharing their mobile phones so they could called their families.

Roel Bramar, who was in the back of the plane, said he used an escape chute to get out of the plane.

''We had a hell of a roller coaster coming down the ravine,'' Bramar told CNN.

Bramar and fellow passenger Olivier Dubois both said the power went off shortly before landing, perhaps after the plane was hit by lighting.

Dubois said he did not expect a crash landing and that there was no warning from the captain.

''It was very very fast,'' Dubois said. ''As soon as the plane stopped, they immediately opened the side of the plane where we couldn't see anything and they told us to jump.''

There was no time to spare.

Just moments after the crash, a portion of the plane's wing could be seen jutting from the trees as smoke and flames poured from the middle of its broken fuselage.

A row of emergency vehicles lined up behind the wreck, and a fire truck sprayed the flames with water. A government transportation highway camera recorded the burning plane, and the footage was broadcast live on television in Canada and the United States.

Dubois said some passengers scrambled onto nearby Highway 401, where cars stopped, picked them up and took them to the airport. Two busloads of passengers were taken to an airport medical center.

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