- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

TORONTO — A jetliner carrying 309 persons erupted in flames yesterday after skidding off a runway while landing in a thunderstorm at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. A government official said it appeared everyone survived, but 24 persons suffered minor injuries.

Steve Shaw, a vice president of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said 297 passengers and 12 crew members were aboard the plane. He said the jet overshot the runway by 200 yards and that he thought the fire broke out after the passengers were evacuated.

The people on board had only moments to escape before the aircraft burst into flames. Passengers screamed and panicked, but, remarkably, everyone jumped to safety.

The crash, which happened at 4:03 p.m., was the first of an Airbus A340 in its 13 years of commercial service.

Officials said the Air France plane from Paris was trying to land at Canada’s busiest airport when it ran into trouble. There was a storm with lightning and strong wind gusts in the area at the time.

A man who identified himself as a survivor, Olivier Dubos, told CTV that the lights in the plane went out a minute before the landing.

“It was scary — really, really scary,” he said.

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.

A row of emergency vehicles lined up behind the wreck, and a firetruck sprayed the flames. A government transportation highway camera recorded the burning plane, and the footage was broadcast live on television in Canada and the United States.

A portion of the plane’s wing jutted from the trees as smoke and flames poured from the middle of its broken fuselage. At one point, another plume of smoke emerged from the wreckage, but it was not clear whether it was from an explosion.

The flaming ruin was next to the four-lane Highway 401, and some cars and trucks stopped on the roadway after the crash.

Corey Marks told CNN he was at the side of the highway when he watched the Air France 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,” Mr. 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.”

Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport handles more than 28 million passengers a year. Located 17 miles west of Toronto in the town of Mississauga, it has three terminals. Air France operates out of Terminal 3.

Paris-based Air France-KLM Group is the world’s largest airline in terms of revenue. It is the product of the French flagship airline’s acquisition last year of Dutch carrier KLM.

Air France-KLM operates a fleet of 375 planes and flies 1,800 daily flights, the company’s Web site said. In the past fiscal year, it carried 43.7 million passengers to 84 countries around the globe.

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