INDEPTH: PLANE FIRE AT PEARSON AIRPORT|
CBC News Online | Aug. 3, 2005
Passengers on Air France Flight 358 are telling harrowing stories of how they managed to get out of the airplane as it burst into flames just off a major runway at Toronto's international airport.
Leading up to the crash landing at 4:03 p.m., they said the flight from Paris circled high over the city in a holding pattern for about 15 minutes because of bad weather on the ground at Pearson International Airport. Rain was pouring down and heavy lightning was flashing through the area.
Passengers from Air France Flight 358 walk into a holding room at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 2. (CP photo / Frank Gunn)
Then the pilot decided to take the plane down on Runway 24L, at the west end of the airport.
Passenger Johnny Abedrabbo said he didn't notice any signs of trouble until after the Airbus 340-300 touched down.
"As soon as we landed, we kind of had a normal landing, where people started clapping," said the Toronto man. "But then we started hearing these noises like when you have a flat tire. I think the landing gear – something happened to the landing gear.
"Then the aircraft swerved to the left and the engine hit the grass and just shot up in flames."
After rolling off the end of the runway, the four-engine aircraft bumped its way down a small wooded ravine, stopping short of the westbound lanes of Highway 401, which was just starting to clog with homebound rush-hour traffic.
"It was like being in a car accident, but it keeps going and going, non-stop," said passenger Eddie Ho.
Seconds later, the cabin started filling with thick black smoke and flames began licking at the plane.
The flight's 297 passengers and 12 crew members knew they had to scramble for their lives.
"Had we stayed there a bit longer, I think we would have suffocated," said Abedrabbo.
He said there was one thought going through his mind as fellow passengers urged each other to move more quickly through the darkened fuselage: "I don't want to die today."
'Save the kids and save our lives'
Veronique and Phil LaCaillé, returning to their home in Aurora, Ont., from a five-week vacation in France, were equally determined to get out with their two children.
"Everything went so fast, we didn't have time to realize what was going on," said Veronique LaCaillé.
"When we saw the fire, the only thing we could think about was 'Save the kids and save our lives,'" said her husband. "We left everything behind and pushed them toward the exit and slid down the escape route, you know, and we ran."
The four LaCaillés managed to find one of the emergency chutes that worked, thanks to the quick action of the plane's crew.
Italian tourist Enrico Jaccomutzi Moore and his wife weren't so lucky, and ended up with broken vertebrae.
"The slide on our side was partly broken because it was not connected to the plane, but we jumped anyway," said Jaccomutzi Moore. "We were afraid the plane would explode there."
The injured couple took refuge under a bridge until rescuers arrived at the scene.
When the LeCaillés ran from the plane, they found themselves standing in the rain on Highway 401, Canada's busiest roadway, watching flames devour the airplane – along with their passports and their luggage.
Jenny Ginder, right, hugs her daughter Samantha Todd, who was a passenger on Air France Flight 358 that crashed at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday Aug. 2. (CP Photo)
Some of their fellow passengers stood with them in bare feet, having lost their shoes in the scramble, staring at the wreckage that could have claimed their lives.
"It's a complete miracle," said Phil LaCaillé. "It's extremely rare to see a plane crash, and not one die. The fact that none of us was injured seriously, and all of us can walk away, is a pure miracle."
Many released after injuries treated
The fact that no one was killed as the jet made its rough landing made headlines around the world, especially in the home countries of the passengers and crew members.
Air France said the plane was carrying 101 French citizens and 104 Canadians, as well as people from Italy, the United States, India and Britain.
Mike Figliola, a fire chief with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said it took crew members less than two minutes to evacuate the plane.
A total of 43 people were treated for broken bones, cuts, bruises and smoke inhalation, all of the injuries incurred as they left the plane or waded across a creek in the ravine to reach safety.
Many of the injured people had been released from local hospitals by Wednesday morning.
|CRASH SCENE VIDEO:|