MONTREAL: At least 23 people were hurt and petrified passengers described how they feared for their lives when an Air Canada plane veered off a runway in heavy snow at Halifax airport on Sunday (Mar 29).
All but one of the injured were later released from hospital but the incident caps a traumatic week for the airline industry, coming five days after a pilot killed himself and 149 others when he slammed his Germanwings plane into the French Alps, obliterating the aircraft. Like the doomed Germanwings flight, the Air Canada plane was an Airbus A320.
Flight AC624 from Toronto “exited runway upon landing at Halifax,” the airline said on Twitter, and pictures showed the nose of the plane sliced off, its landing gear collapsed and at least one engine badly mangled.
Passengers said the plane had circled over the airport before coming in to land and had “bounced” upon impact, shortly after midnight.
Investigators were probing what caused the incident, but heavy snow was falling in the eastern Canadian city and Environment Canada had issued a snowfall alert, warning of low visibility.
Five crew and 133 passengers were on board the plane, according to Air Canada.
Passengers described scenes of panic.
“There was a couple people, all bloodied. Everybody was able to get out, but what was worse was that they left us for an hour outside in the blowing snow,” Lianne Clark told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Some ran from the plane “because the fuel was coming out and we were scared,” she said.
Halifax airport spokesman Peter Spurway said passengers had appeared shaken as they left the plane, describing the incident as “scary.”
Greg Wright was waiting at the airport to meet his 13-year-old son.
He told CBC News he initially thought his son was joking when he called to say there had been an accident.
“He said, ‘We crashed, we crashed,'” Wright told CBC. “I was panicked.”
Power was out at the airport at the time of the incident, but Spurway did not say whether there was any link to the accident.
“We did lose power, we’re not sure if the two incidents are connected. They may be but we’re not sure,” he told AFP.
Back-up generators were running when the flight landed and the runways were lit, he added.
Spurway could not confirm reports that the plane’s wings became tangled in electricity wires upon landing, saying only the Transportation Safety Board of Canada was on site to investigate.
Both runways were closed overnight but the airport was slowly returning to normality on Sunday morning.
Images showed the aircraft sitting on the airfield with its badly damaged nose as thick snow covered the ground. Spurway reported the damage as “extensive” and at least one emergency chute had opened.
Several counties in the eastern coastal province of Nova Scotia were affected by Saturday’s winter weather alert.
“We at Air Canada are greatly relieved that no one was critically injured,” said Klaus Goersch, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Air Canada.
“Yet we fully appreciate this has been a very unsettling experience for our customers and their families, as well as our employees, and we are focused on caring for all those affected.”