updated 8/21/2008 6:00:22 PM ET 2008-08-21T22:00:22

A Spanish couple got to Madrid's airport three minutes late, but it kept them off a doomed flight.

"Today is another birthday," Ertoma Bolanos said after the Spanair jetliner he and his girlfriend were supposed to take to their native Canary Islands crashed during takeoff Wednesday and claimed 153 lives.

The couple was allowed to check in for Flight JK5022 even though they were late, but they didn't get to the departure gate in time to board the plane. Bolanos did not explain why they were late getting to the airport.

They were trying to arrange an alternative flight when they learned about the crash, in a phone call from his girlfriend's family to say they had seen a report on the accident on television.

"We arrived three minutes late and they let us check in, but we did not make it. We ended up trying to find a new flight. Then we discovered the plane we would have been on had crashed," Bolanos said in a television interview aired by the Spanish news agency Efe.

In a separate interview with the newspaper La Vanguardia, he said: "We had no idea what had happened. My mouth dropped open."

Bolanos and his girlfriend, Almudena, both 26, had been in mainland Spain to vacation with her relatives in the southwest Extremadura region.

"We have to fly to the Canary Islands. We're from there and that about sums it up," said Bolanos.

The couple said they would remain in Madrid until the next flight to Las Palmas, on Friday.

"We're stranded here until we catch a flight," said Bolanos.

"You are not going to believe it, but we are going to fly again with Spanair," he told La Vanguardia.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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