BOGOTA, Colombia – A Boeing 737 jetliner with 131 passengers aboard crashed on landing and broke into three pieces at a Colombian island in the Caribbean early Monday. The region’s governor said it was a miracle that only one person died.
Colombian Air Force Col. David Barrero said officials were investigating reports the plane, operated by the local airline Aires, had been hit by lightning before crashing at 1:49 a.m. (3:49 a.m. EDT) while landing at San Andres Island, a resort island of 78,000 people about 120 miles east of the Nicaraguan coast.
San Andres Gov. Pedro Gallardo said 125 passengers and six crew members had been aboard, but the only person killed was Amar Fernandez de Barreto, 65. At least five people were reported injured.
“It was a miracle and we have to give thanks to God,” the governor said.
The state government said in an e-mail that passengers aboard the Aires plane that left Bogota about midnight included eight U.S. citizens and four Brazilians.
Passengers said the pilot had announced an impending landing and all seemed normal as the plane descended through rain.
But suddenly it hit short and then slid onto the runway on its belly as the fuselage fractured. It wound up on one end of the runway, crumpled and in pieces, as passengers scrambled or were helped to safety.
Firefighters quickly doused the beginnings of a fire on a wing, said police Gen. Orlando Paez.
Ninety-nine passengers were taken to the Amor de Patria Hospital on San Andres, said the hospital director, Dr. Robert Sanchez. He said only four suffered major injuries.
“It’s incredible. For the dimension (of the accident), there should be more,” he said.
Sanchez said an initial examination indicated that Fernandez de Barreto may have died of a heart attack.
Barrero, commander of the Caribbean Air Group, said by telephone from San Andres that “the skill of the pilot kept the plane from colliding with the airport.”
He said the cause of the accident was uncertain. “You can’t speculate. Lightning? A gust of wind? The investigation will say.”
The airline, Aerovias de Integracion Regional SA, said in a Twitter posting that it has 20 planes, including 10 Boeing 737-100 planes.
It said it was “working and investigating with the aeronautical authorities to determine the causes of what happened.”
Barrero said part of the 7,800-foot runway had been closed because parts of the plane were still scattered across it. But enough was usable that air ambulances would be able to land.
Paez said by telephone that a group of police officers who had been waiting at the airport for the plane to take them back to the Colombian mainland aided in rescuing the victims.
Col. Hector Carrascal of Colombian Civil Aeronautics said five U.S. citizens aboard the plane suffered minor injuries. He identified them as: David Bellino, Carolina Calvete, Donald Henderson, Valentina Hurtado Lopez and Catherine Schmidt.
The fact so many passengers survived is a testament to the “excellent service of our fire squads and the serach and rescue teams of the island,” Carrascal said.
– Story and images via Weather.com from various sources