KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - An American Airlines flight carrying
154 people skidded across a Jamaican runway in heavy rain, bouncing
across the tarmac and injuring more than 40 people before it
stopped just short of the Caribbean Sea, officials and witnesses
Panicked passengers screamed and baggage burst from overhead
bins as Flight 331 from Miami careened down the runway in the
capital, Kingston, on Tuesday night, one passenger said.
The impact cracked the fuselage, crushed the left landing gear
and separated both engines from the Boeing 737-800, airline
spokesman Tim Smith said.
Crews evacuated dazed and bloodied passengers onto a beach from
a cabin that smelled of smoke and jet fuel, passengers said. Rain
poured through the plane's broken roof, one said.
Some 44 people were taken to hospitals with broken bones and
back pains and four were seriously hurt, airport and Jamaican
government officials said. American Airlines said two people were
admitted to the hospital and nobody suffered life-threatening
Heavy turbulence on the way to Jamaica had forced the crew to
halt the beverage service three times before giving up, Pilar
Abaurrea of Keene, New Hampshire, told The Associated Press by
phone. The pilot warned of more turbulence just before landing but
said it likely wouldn't be much worse, she said.
"All of a sudden, when it hit the ground, the plane was kind of
bouncing. Someone said the plane was skidding and there was
panic," she said.
U.S. investigators will analyze whether the plane should have
been landing in such bad weather, Smith said, adding that other
planes had landed safely in the heavy rain.
Passenger Natalie Morales Hendricks told NBC's "Today" that
the plane began to skid upon landing and "before I knew it,
everything was black and we were crashing."
"Everybody's overhead baggage started to fall. Literally, it
was like being in a car accident. People were screaming, I was
screaming," she said.
"There was smoke and debris everywhere," after the plane
halted, she said. "It was a mess. Everybody could smell jet
Passenger Robert Mais told The Gleaner newspaper of Jamaica that
he had heard the engine's reverse throttle but that the plane
didn't seem to slow as it skittered down the runway.
The plane came to a halt about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters)
from the Caribbean Sea and passengers walked along the beach to be
picked up by a bus, Mais said. Rain came through the roof of the
darkened jet and baggage from the overhead compartments was strewn about the cabin, he said.
The plane originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington
and took off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 p.m. and
arrived in Kingston at 10:22 p.m. It was carrying 148 passengers
and a crew of six, American said. The majority of those aboard were
Jamaicans coming home for Christmas, Jamaican Information Minister
Daryl Vaz said.
Smith said there were two "significant" cracks in the fuselage, and the engines are designed to separate from the wings during an accident as a safety measure.
The airport reopened early Wednesday after officials had delayed
flights because of concerns that the plane's tail might be hindering visibility.
Some 400 passengers waited for their flights to be cleared for
takeoff, Security Minister Dwight Nelson told Radio Jamaica.
Heavy rains that have pelted Jamaica's eastern region for four
days are expected to dissipate by Thursday. Authorities said the
rains washed away a 7-year-old girl on Tuesday and led to a bus
accident in which two people died.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)