Passengers and crew members on an Air Canada jet that skidded off the runway were "pretty lucky," an investigator said Sunday evening, as only one of the 138 people aboard the plane remained in the hospital.
More than a dozen investigators for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada were on their way to the Halifax airport in Nova Scotia after Air Canada Flight 624 from Toronto, an Airbus A320, struck an antenna array on its approach to landing about 12:43 a.m Sunday (11:43 p.m. ET Saturday).
The impact sheared off the jet's landing gear and caused other major damage, forcing it to hit the ground well short of the runway, said Mike Cunningham, the safety board's regional manager for air investigations. "From there, the aircraft continued forward and right onto the runway itself," he said, raking along the asphalt for more than 1,000 feet before it came to rest near one of its two engines, which had detached.
"There's significant damage to the aircraft," Cunningham told reporters early Sunday evening. "They touched down 1,100 feet short of the runway, so I'd say they were pretty lucky."
Halifax Stanfield International Airport said that its airfield was closed and that 25 people were taken to the hospital. The airline said later that all but one had been treated and released.
"All of us with Air Canada are greatly relieved that there have been no critical injuries as a result of this incident," Klaus Goersch, the airline's chief operating officer, said at a news conference.
Air Canada representatives have spoken to the pilots, who suffered minor injuries, but they haven't said how the crash happened, Goersch said.
Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said that there was some snow and wind when the plane touched down but that conditions were not terribly difficult for landing.
Cunningham said it too early in the "very complex" investigation to comment on what might have caused the accident.
A passenger on the plane, Treasure Addis-Mills, described the conditions as "bad weather and reduced visibility." She said the pilots apparently circled the airport until they saw a break in the weather "and then went in."
After the landing, there were "people with bloody faces," Addis-Mills said. "Took a long time being stranded on the runway with snow coming down."
Addis-Mills said passengers "had to huddle like penguins to stay warm" until they were led to the terminal.
The incident also knocked out power to the airport. Photos on social media showed passengers in a darkened terminal after the hard landing. Nova Scotia Power said electricity was restored to the airport shortly after 1 a.m.
The plane left Toronto Pearson International Airport bound for Halifax at 9:05 p.m., according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.