149 dead as airliner crashes off Madrid runway

Only 26 survive Spain's deadliest air disaster in 20 years
Medical personnel tend an injured passenger in Madrid's Barajas Airport.
Medical personnel tend an injured passenger in Madrid's Barajas Airport.

MADRID // A Spanish airliner bound for the Canary Islands at the height of the holiday season crashed, burned and broke into pieces today while trying to take off from Madrid, killing 149 people on board, officials said. There were only 26 survivors in the midafternoon crash, said the Spanish development minister, Magdalena Alvarez, whose department is in charge of civil aviation. It was Spain's most deadly air disaster in more than 20 years. The prime minister broke off his holiday in southern Spain and rushed back to Madrid, heading straight for the airport. "I have never seen anything like this in my life," an ambulance driver, Luis Ferreras, who viewed the crash site, was quoted as saying by El Pais. Spanair Flight JK5022 - bound for Las Palmas during the height of Europe's summer holiday season - was barely airbourne when it veered right, crashed and broke into pieces, reports said. Sergio Allard, a Spanair spokesman, told a news conference the plane was carrying 175 people and the cause of the crash was not immediately known. Spanair declined to give nationalities of those on board saying next of kin had to be notified first, or to give a death toll. Departures from Madrid's airport were suspended for several hours but later resumed. In Germany, Lufthansa said it issued tickets to seven people who checked in for the flight, and that four of those were from Germany. It was unclear whether they were German citizens. El Pais said the plane's takeoff had been an hour late because of technical problems. It eventually managed to get slightly off the ground but crashed near the end of the runway, El Pais said, quoting an employee of the national airport authority, Arena. Helicopters and fire lorries dumped water on the plane, which ended up in a wooded area at the end of the runway at Terminal 4. A makeshift morgue was set up at the city's main convention centre, officials said. The plane was an MD-82 on a code-share flight with Lufthansa's LH255, Spanair said. McDonnell Douglas was bought out by Boeing in 1997. Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said the company would send at least one person to assist in the investigation of the crash as soon as it receives an invitation from Spanish authorities. "We stand ready to provide technical assistance," he said, reading from a prepared statement. Mr Allard said the plane last passed an inspection in January of this year and no problems with it had been reported since then. The plane is 15 years old and has been owned by Spanair for the past nine, he said. The DC-9/MD-80 family of twin-engined medium-range airliners enjoyed wide popularity among the world's airlines in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. But it has had a number of fatal accidents, the deadliest of which was a crash of Slovenia's Adria Airways flight in Corsica in 1981, when all 180 people on board perished. *AP

Published: August 20, 2008 04:00 AM

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