The 309 passengers and crew members aboard an Air France jet survived a “hell of a roller coaster” Tuesday as the aircraft skidded off a runway in Toronto and plunged into a wooded ravine before bursting into flames.
Steven Shaw of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority said at a news conference that there were “no known fatalities” in the crash and only 14 people were known to have suffered minor injuries. The number of injured was later revised to 24.
Roel Bramar, a passenger who said he was the second person off the plane, told the CBC the plane came to rest in the woods after “a hell of a roller coaster going down the ravine,” and that a flight attendant was able to deploy the escape chute before the plane erupted in flames.
“I was at the very, very end of the plane. … All I could think of was to get off,” Bramar said.
He said word of the crash spread quickly among friends and relatives at the airport to pick up passengers, including his son. “It was only two minutes between the crash and me getting a call on my cell phone,” he said.
Both Bramar and another passenger, Olivier Dubois, said the jet lost power before it touched down, perhaps after the plane was hit by lightning. But Dubois said he did not expect a crash landing and that there was no warning from the captain. After the plane skidded off the runway, Dubois said, "then it was really, really scary; very, very scary."
Leah Walker, a reporter for Toronto 680-AM Radio, saw survivors emerge from a gully where the Air France Airbus A340 came to rest. She reported that two busloads of passengers were transported to a triage area for treatment of possible injuries.
The jetliner erupted in flames after skidding off a runway while landing in a fierce thunderstorm at Lester Pearson International Airport. Black smoke billowed into the air as the wreck burned.
Walker said she saw a third of the plane fall after the impact and that the rest quickly became a fireball.
“The plane touched ground and we felt it was going off road and hitting a ravine and that’s when we thought that was really the end of it,” said Dubois, who was seated in the rear of the aircraft.
‘Everyone was panicking’
“It was really, really scary. Everyone was panicking,” Dubois told CTV. “People were screaming and ... jumping as fast as possible and running everywhere, because our biggest fear is that it would blow up.”
“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.”
He 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.
Corey Marks told CNN he was at the side of the road when he watched the plane touch down and crash.
“It was around 4 o’clock, it was getting really dark, and all of a sudden lightning was happening, a lot of rain was coming down,” Marks said. “This plane ... came in on the runway, hits the runway nice. Everything looked good, sounds good and all of a sudden we heard the engines backing up. ... He went straight into the valley and cracked in half.”
Passenger criticizes flight attendants
Hours after the crash and rescues, at least one passenger was less than complimentary about the work of some of the flight attendants during the accident.
Gwen Dunlop, a Toronto resident who was on the flight returning from vacation in France, said when the plane first touched down 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.”
“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 said some passengers went down emergency chutes, while others 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 the pouring rain, lightning and thunder added to the drama. “We were just thrown into the weather.”