A Transportation Safety Board investigator said Air Canada Flight 624 passengers were “pretty lucky” that the Sunday morning crash wasn’t more serious after the plane touched down more than 300 metres short of a Halifax runway and smashed through an antenna array before finally skidding to a stop.
Mike Cunningham, a regional air investigation coordinator with the TSB, said during an evening press briefing that the cockpit voice recorder and data recorder have been recovered and sent to Ottawa so preliminary analysis can begin as soon as possible.
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Investigators from other parts of Canada and France, as well representatives from the airplane's manufacturer Airbus, are being brought in to assist.
“It's a very great concern to us and we will be putting our maximum effort into determining what happened … with the intention of advancing safety,” Cunningham said.
After crashing, the Airbus A320 slid another 335 metres down the runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Twenty-three people on board were taken to hospital, none with critical injuries, airport officials said.
The plane was travelling from Toronto to Halifax carrying 133 passengers and five crew members.
The aircraft lost all its landing gear when it made contact with the antenna array, Cunningham said. The plane's nose cone and an engine detached and a wing was severely damaged. The current goal is “site documentation” and a full complement of up to 15 investigators are expected at the airport tomorrow morning, he said.
Cunningham stressed it’s too early to draw any conclusions about what led to the accident. It’s a complex investigation and it takes time to get to the “underlying factors.”
The plane also damaged power lines during the crash, cutting off electricity to the airport for more than an hour.
'Appropriate' weather for landing
Cunningham refused to rule out weather as a contributor to the crash. An executive vice-president of Air Canada said earlier in the day that landing conditions were safe, even though it was snowing.
Air Canada's Klaus Goersch said all but one of the 23 people taken to hospital following the crash has now been released, including the two pilots. He said the remaining person was expected to be released later in the day.
Both pilots have worked for Air Canada for about 15 years and have a lot of experience flying A320s, Goersch told reporters Sunday afternoon.
“All of us at Air Canada are greatly relieved that there have been no critical injuries as a result of this incident,” he said.
Goersch said determining the cause of the crash will be up to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. He did say the plane circled some time before trying to land, but added weather was at “approach minimums.”
“The weather was appropriate for landing,” he said.
The crash was “very unsettling” for passengers and their families, Goersch said.
A secondary runway is in operation at the airport, and flights have resumed. Changes in flight schedules are expected and the airport is asking people to check with their airline for flight information.
Passenger Randy Hall said the plane was circling the airport for at least 30 minutes waiting for a good time to land. As the plane was coming down, there was "a big flash," he said.
Passenger Denis Lavoie said he saw sparks coming from the plane and that it bounced twice upon landing.
When the plane landed, the passengers left via the emergency exits.
“There was a couple people all bloodied. Everybody was able to get out, but what was worse was that they left us for an hour outside in the blowing snow. I mean, we’re all freezing and we’re looking and going, ‘Why isn’t anybody coming to get us?’" said passenger Lianne Clark.
Once off the plane, the passengers ran away from the plane "because the fuel was coming out and we were scared," she said.
Passengers were very cold, especially given that some were in shorts because they were coming from southern destinations and some had taken off their shoes while on the plane.
Scott Murray, one of dozens of family members waiting for loved ones on the flight from Toronto, told CBC News his father was on the plane and called to say "that the plane crashed and he's all right."
'A rough ride'
It was snowing heavily at the airport at the time of the incident and Murray said his drive in was just as "nasty."
"It was a rough ride here. It was pretty nasty. Highways aren't that great," he said.
Greg Wright, who was waiting for his 13-year-old son to come off the plane, said he thought his son was joking when he called from the plane.
"He said, 'We crashed, we crashed.' I said, 'Where are you?' He said, 'I'm on the runway,'" Wright said. "I was panicked."
His son and other passengers were directed to a fire truck, then a bus, and were taken to an airport hangar where they were triaged and checked for injuries, said Wright. His son was not seriously hurt.
Lavoie said the buses picked the passengers up at 1:21 a.m.