More than 150 dead in Spanish air crash

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Death toll of Spanair crash continues to rise while some injured passengers remain in critical condition.

21 August 2008

MADRID -- More than 150 people died Wednesday when a Spanair plane, headed for Gran Canaria, veered off the Madrid-Barajas airport runway during takeoff, Spanish Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez confirmed.

Alvarez said late Wednesday that the death toll had risen to 153. Nineteen passengers were hospitalised with severe injuries, including life-threatening burns. The flight had 164 passengers and nine crew members on board.

According to rescue services and witnesses, the Spanair type MD-82 aircraft never achieved flight, but hurtled off the end of the runway, where it broke apart and burst into flames.

"I saw how the airplane was torn into many pieces," said a driver who witnessed the crash from a nearby highway. "Then there were huge explosions. At first, I thought the plane was getting ready to land. But then it tipped to the side and bored into the earth with its right wing."

The flight with numbers JK 5022 and LH 2554 was due to take off at 1 pm (1100 GMT) for Gran Canaria. According to a report from El Pais, the first takeoff was delayed due to a technical problem. The crash occurred around 2:45 pm (1245 GMT) during the second attempt to depart.

A huge cloud of smoke rose from the accident site. Fire and rescue services sent a helicopter to douse the flames in the McDonnel-Douglas aircraft and its surrounding.

Rescue workers painted a picture of horror.

"There was nothing left that resembled an airplane," a police officer said. "It's how I imagine hell."

A colleague added that everything was black and burnt. "The bodies were so hot, that we burnt our fingers when we moved them."

Another rescue worker said it was a miracle that anyone survived the inferno. "The bodies in the wreckage were like charcoal and maimed," he said.

The bodies were transported with hearses to a hall at the Madrid convention centre, the same place that bodies were taken four years ago after terrorist attacks killed 191 people on trains during commuter rush hour in Madrid.

Family and friends waiting for the flight to arrive in Gran Canaria waited for hours to hear the fate of their spouses, parents, siblings or children.

"My sons, my daughter," sobbed one woman.

Following the incident, the Madrid airport was immediately closed to all traffic. Takeoffs and landings resumed on a limited basis later in the afternoon.

[dpa / Expatica]

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