News

Plane crash at Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport

40 passengers injured in American Airlines accident at NMIA

BY ROLAND HENRY Lifestyle Co-ordinator henryr@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, December 23, 2009    

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Forty passengers were reported injured when an American Airlines plane crashed and broke in two after landing at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston shortly after 10:00 last night.

"The injured passengers have been taken to the Kingston Public Hospital," Information Minister Daryl Vaz told the Observer. "There are no reports of fatalities."

Vaz, Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry and National Security Minister Dwight Nelson were quick on the scene and engaged in a head count from the passenger manifest to determine if anyone was missing.

Flight AA331, a Boeing 737-800, had just arrived from Miami in pouring rain with 148 passengers and a crew of six when the accident occurred.

"The plane crashed and broke almost in front of me," said a shaken Naomi Palmer who was in seat number D8.

Palmer said she was feeling some pain and was being supported by a friend on the outside of the arrival area when she spoke with the Observer.

The plane overran the runway, smashed through the perimeter fence, crossed the Port Royal road and ended up on the beach.

"The pilot couldn't stop the plane," one male passenger who opted not to be named, told the Observer. 

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Another passenger, Verona Hall, said, "The plane landed and people started clapping. We saw the lights of Kingston. Then all of a sudden we didn't see the lights anymore. I looked through the window and I saw white lines, so I felt I was on the tarmac, but it was actually a rough touchdown. The plane broke and we began to smell fuel."

Hall said the flight was actually late leaving Miami as airport authorities offloaded all the luggage in order to remove one suitcase from the cargo hold.

Niko Hurley, who was travelling from San Francisco and connected in Miami, told the Observer that the lights in the plane went out, the overhead bin opened and luggage fell onto his head.

"We smelt fuel and realised that some people were injured and we began to help them out of the plane because we weren't sure if there was a bomb or something," he said.

His mother, Bambi Fowles, who was on her way to pick up her son, cried as she told the Observer that she heard about the accident when she got to the Harbour View roundabout and saw that it was blocked by police.

"I begged and begged the policeman to let me through," she said, her voice cracking. "I'm just so relieved because I feared the worst."

People at the arrival area of the airport waiting to pick up their friends or loved ones first got a hint that something was wrong when they saw passengers emerging from the Customs hall bloodied and shaken.

Some of the injured passengers were placed under a permanent tent outside the arrival hall and were seen nursing their wounds with towels and shirts.

One young woman who was apparently there to pick up someone, started filming the activities under the tent but was accosted by police who carted her off to the Airport Police Station.

The absence of any medical personnel to tend to the injured passengers angered a woman who gave her name as Heather Robinson. "I wasn't on the plane, but I was here to witness the most embarrassing scene," she said. "It is a shame that as a country our airport is not ready to deal with a crisis."

Verona Hall was also angry at the authorities. She said that after the plane stopped, the passengers were made to wait for what seemed like half-an-hour before help arrived.

"This is an embarrassment that there was no emergency plan at this airport," she fumed.

Airport officials were not available for comment last night. However, it is expected that the crash will be investigated by aviation officials today.

Last night, American Airlines issued a statement saying that it is in direct contact with officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration and is co-operating fully with appropriate authorities.

"American Airlines will not speculate as to possible causes of the incident. At this point, no additional details can be confirmed," the airline said.

Additional reporting by Vernon Davidson

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