TORONTO (CP) -- Injured survivors and crew members staggered along Canada's busiest highway Tuesday after an Air France jet carrying 243 passengers skidded off the runway and burst into flames while trying to land during a fierce thunderstorm.
The co-pilot aboard Air France Flight 358 from Paris was among a series of passengers who flagged down passing motorists in the moments following the crash, said Peel police Sgt. Glyn Griffiths.
''We located the co-pilot on Highway 401,'' Griffiths said, adding he did not know the extent of injuries suffered by the passengers.
Flames and black smoke could be seen shooting from the downed plane's broken fuselage, a wingtip jutting above the trees, moments after it crashed at the end of the runway amid lightning strikes and driving rain.
There was no immediate indication of casualties or fatalities, and witnesses reported several survivors.
''A pilot has gone to hospital and they were picked up on the 401 and a number of other passengers were wandering around the area,'' Griffiths told the Globe and Mail.
CNN reported the flight was scheduled to arrive in Toronto at 4 p.m. from Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris.
''I would say the thing is broken in half from the wing part, we're obviously going to have casualties,'' witness Eddy Mets, who is also an aviation expert, told Toronto television station CP24.
Mets said the plane was an A340, capable of transporting as many as 350 people, and the only craft that Air France flies into Toronto.
Glenn Schiller, a passenger in a plane that had already landed on the tarmac, watched the scene unfold.
''Looking out the window to the back my aircraft, a thick, black billow of smoke began,'' Schiller told CP24. ''Emergency vehicles are flying around a couple thousand metres away across on the runway.''
Schiller said the pilot of his aircraft told passengers there was ''a landing incident.''
''At the time the rain was coming down sideways,'' he said. ''It was a vicious, vicious thunderstorm.''
Thunderstorms create the possibility of wind shear _ the sudden, dangerous air currents that can push an aircraft into the ground during takeoff and landing.
Smoke billowed from a wooded area near Highway 401, Canada's busiest highway, as emergency crews sped to the scene and commuters on their way home from work became snared in a massive traffic jam.
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. At one point, another huge plume of smoke emerged from the wreckage, but it wasn't clear whether it was from an explosion.
A row of emergency vehicles lined up behind the wreck, and a fire truck sprayed the flames with water and foam.
Although details on the injuries, the number of passengers and circumstances of the crash were unavailable, the operation was broadcast live on television in Canada and the United States.
Police said the plane was attempting to land when it ran into trouble in a driving rain. Lightning strikes were also spotted in the area.
The airport had been operating under vigilant security measures in the wake of deadly bombings in London.
Fire crews were blasting the craft with water, sending plumes of white smoke into the sky.
''I'm actually very surprised they've been able to contain it as well as they have,'' said Mets.
Nine flights scheduled to land at Pearson had been diverted to Ottawa, officials said.
There has not been a crash of a large passenger jet at Pearson, Canada's busiest airport, in more than 30 years. In 1970 an Air Canada DC-8 jet, en route from Montreal to Los Angeles, went down north of the airport, killing all 109 people aboard.
The last major jumbo jet crash in North America was on Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 lost part of its tail and plummeted into a New York City neighbourhood, killing 265 people. Safety investigators concluded the crash was caused by the pilot moving the rudder too aggressively.