Plane overshoots runway in Jamaica

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 11:19am

KINGSTON, JAMAICA - An American Airlines flight carrying more than 150 people skidded off a rain-slicked runway as it landed in Jamaica Tuesday night, hitting a fence and plowing into a sandy embankment before it came to rest a few feet from the Caribbean Sea.

No one was killed in the accident, which knocked off the engines of the Boeing 737-800 and cracked its fuselage, but about 90 passengers were treated for minor injuries at hospitals around Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, according to a statement from Norman Manley International Airport.

Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, said two of the 148 passengers had been admitted to the hospital for observation. Mr. Smith said he did not know the extent of their injuries, but said they were not life-threatening.

Photographs from the scene Tuesday night show distraught-looking passengers being wheeled through the airport and into hospitals, some holding towels and shirts to their heads, others with cuts and bruises on their faces.

In interviews with Jamaican newspapers, passengers said the plane, American Airlines flight 331, landed in pouring rain after a turbulent flight from Miami. Some passengers clapped as the plane touched down at 10:22 p.m., they said, but then it started skidding.

“The plane crashed and broke almost in front of me,” one passenger, Naomi Palmer, told the Jamaica Observer.

Passengers started screaming as the plane slid down the runway, crossed a road, smashed through a perimeter fence and then crashed into a sandy embankment, according to the passengers’ accounts. The lights went out, and suitcases and bags popped out of the overhead bins and fell onto passengers.

“We just buckled and bumped,” another passenger, Natalie Morales-Hendricks told NBC’s Today show. “It was like being in a car accident. People were screaming. I was screaming, covering my face and hands, and the next thing you know, we’re at a standstill.”

The flight’s six crew members — who were not seriously injured — helped the passengers make their way off the plane through the emergency exits, and into the rain.

“When I came off the aircraft I saw that we were about 10-15 feet from the sea and boulders, so I walked on the beach to the road, where we were picked up by a bus,” Robert Mais, a passenger, told the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper.

Mr. Smith of American Airlines said both engines had come off and that the fuselage had cracked in two places. Passengers told Jamaican newspapers that they could feel rain inside the cabin once the plane came to a halt.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will now begin piecing together how the airplane, a Boeing 737-800, overshot the runway, and whether rain and wind played a role in the crash, officials said.

The flight originated from Washington, D.C., then stopped in Miami before taking off at about 9 p.m. for Kingston.