The propeller of an Air Canada Express plane bound for Grande Prairie, Alta., sliced through the fuselage spraying glass across the cabin and filling the air with the smell of burnt steel, plastic and asphalt, say passengers on a flight forced to make an emergency landing in Edmonton Thursday night.

"I felt it happen,” said Lindsay George, 24. “Women were screaming. And when something tears into a can you can just feel it.

“The air pressure changes and things were breaking, things were flying apart. There was glass all over the place.”

The Air Canada Bombardier Q400, carrying 71 passengers and four crew members, was forced to divert to Edmonton after a tire blew on takeoff in Calgary and high crosswinds there prevented an emergency landing.

Passengers were first alerted to a problem when a loud bang was heard during takeoff.

"As we were gaining speed, the plane started shaking really bad and you heard a really loud bang and the plane almost seemed like it was out of control a little bit," said Lee Swaile.

About 15 minutes into the flight, Swaile said the pilot told the passengers that they had blown a tire and would have to divert to Edmonton.

The pilot told passengers not to worry.

But the landing was anything but smooth, said passengers who spoke to CBC News.

'It was terrifying'

"There was so much noise and people were screaming," Swaile said. "It was terrifying.

air canada emergency landing

The Air Canada Express plane shortly after passengers were evacuated on Thursday night. (Supplied/Lee Swaile)

"We didn't have any indication that anything was going to happen until the second we touched down and that's when it all just broke loose," he said. "There was a big crash, and it felt like the weight from the plane, the tires all went out.

"You could feel that we were dragging on the ground," he continued. "You could smell the hot asphalt and the hot metal just ripping through the ground. It almost felt like the plane was going to just turn over we were going so fast."

After the propeller sliced through the fuselage, the forward landing gear broke away, George said.

“I looked out the window, just looking over my shoulder,” she said. “The ground was pretty close. I could have swore that I could stick my arm out the window and touch the ground.

“We were just riding along the airstrip on the belly of the plane."

Her mind drifted to her young daughter.

'You don't know if you're going to make it'

"In that instant, you don't know if you're going to make it home," she said tearfully.

"If I die right now, where is she going to be?"

By the time the plane ground to a halt, parts of the ceiling were caving in, said Ron Prochner, general manager of a Grande Prairie radio station.

At first passengers cheered, but elation quickly turned to panic.  

Two large men opened the plane door as passengers scrambled for their luggage before flight attendants took control, he said.

As Prochner left the plane, he could see where the propeller sliced through the plane

‘The people sitting in that row were very lucky,” he said.

Air Canada and Jazz said in a news release it was grateful there were no severe injuries and thanked emergency response personnel on the scene.

Three passengers were sent to hospital where one remains under observation.

Prochner said the patient is his colleague who suffered a concussion.

Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene Friday morning, looking into what it describes as a "landing incident."

Once the Transportation Safety Board investigation concludes, airport authorities and Air Canada will remove the plane from the runway.