Canada

'A miracle' no deaths as Air France flight skids off runway, burns in Toronto

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Rescue crews trying to extinguish the flames.

More than 300 passengers and crew on board an Air France flight escaped from a fiery wreck when their plane skidded off the runway on Tuesday afternoon at Toronto's Pearson Airport.

Only 43 people received what were described as minor injuries.

The plane, an Airbus A340-300 was en route from Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport and landed in Toronto at 4:03 p.m. EDT. The weather at the time was severe, with high winds, heavy rain and lightning.

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William Osler Health Centre

The craft owned and flown by Air France is the A340-300. The plane, usually is equipped to carry 295 passengers and fly 12,000 kilometres before refueling.

The plane had a crew of 12.

It overshot runway 24-L by more than 200 metres, coming to rest at the lip of a ravine at the end of the runway.

"We had a hell of a roller coaster going down the ravine," Roel Bramar said. "All I could think of was 'Get off!'"

Another passenger, Olivier Dubois, said he was thankful to be alive.

"The most difficult thing was when the plane was rolling and we were halfway, and we thought we would die, because [as we looked out of] the window there were flames, the plane was continuing to go, and we thought we would just die," said Dubois.

But all the passengers managed to get off the stricken aircraft before the fire erupted.

Bramar told CBC News that he saw lightning just as the plane landed in a torrential downpour.

Canada's busiest airport was immediately closed down as the emergency rescue effort went into effect. Incoming traffic was diverted and departing flights were cancelled.

Commenting on the accident, GTAA spokesman Steve Shaw said the reason for so few injuries was because of the speed and professionalism of everyone involved. "The aircraft was evacuated very rapidly, the emergency services responded very quickly," he said.

"We can confirm that 10 passengers are being treated at Etobicoke's emergency department at the present time. So far no passengers have been received at the Peel Memorial Hospital in Brampton," said Gillian Williams McLean, spokesperson for the nearby William Osler Health Centre.

The other injured passengers, including a nine-month-old baby, were taken to other area hospitals, though none of the injuries were described as serious.

Some of the passengers who escaped from the plane scrambled onto Highway 401, where cars stopped to pick them up and drove them to the airport.

Federal Transportation Minister Jean Lapierre said he was told by Defence Department officials that more than 200 people had died in the accident. It wasn't until he was on the ground in Iqaluit, Nunavut, that the confusion was cleared up.

"We're told that the plane probably landed a little late, and that's why it's off 200 metres from the runway. The weather was very severe at the time. But, having more than 300 people come out of that plane before it caught on fire is just a miracle," said Lapierre.

Shaw said Toronto's Pearson Airport is expected to return to normal by late Tuesday night, or early Wednesday morning.