Calgarian breaks back in 'terrifying' landing that snaps wings from plane in Myanmar

Calgarian Leya Russell is recovering in a Bangkok hospital after fracturing vertebrae when the plane she was in crashed while landing in Myanmar — snapping off both wings, breaking the fuselage in at least two spots and losing a wheel, she says.

Leya Russell says it was hours before she received proper medical treatment

Leya Russell was taken to hospital in Bangkok in the plane pictured here after her back was broken when a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 (not pictured) had a rough landing in Myanmar on May 8. (Submitted by Leya Russell)

Calgarian Leya Russell is recovering in a Bangkok hospital after suffering broken vertebrae when her plane crashed during a rough landing in Myanmar last week.

She said her passport was taken from her following the crash, and it was hours before she received proper medical treatment. She's since been able to walk again and is looking forward to returning home.

Russell was on Biman Air Flight 060, a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Yangon, Myanmar on May 8. She had just finished a three-week assignment with Photographers Without Borders, photographing therapists working with people with disabilities through a non-profit in rural Bangladesh.

As soon as the wheels hit the ground … the plane shoots straight up and then slams straight down.- Leya Russell, passenger on Biman Air Flight 060

She had planned to vacation for three days in Myanmar before returning home to Calgary.

The photographer said her first indications that something might be wrong were that the plane was delayed for hours, with no reason given, and that when it finally took off, the wheels made an odd sound.

She slept through the flight, but woke up in time to film the landing from her seat near the wing.

"They come over the intercom and say, 'Oh, we're going to have some turbulence,'" she said.

Russell said the plane began to land, but then shot straight back up in the air. The pilot attempted to land four times, she said, but eventually told passengers over the intercom weather kept preventing the plane from touching down.

She said there was no turbulence and no visible sign of severe weather.

Finally, the plane touched down and she immediately started applauding, thinking the journey was over.

'Crushed' between luggage and seat

"As soon as the wheels hit the ground … the plane shoots straight up and then slams straight down, and the wing comes off and the wheel comes off. I got crushed between the luggage compartment and the seat," she said.

Russell said other passengers were bleeding. She looked around for help and spotted the stewardess, immobilized, sitting a few seats behind her and screaming "fire" over and over. She said she later learned the woman had a serious spinal injury.

Passengers worked together to get the doors open, and those who were able to walk, including Russell, made their way along a field before they were taken by bus to arrivals and left for about 40 minutes with no communication.

Left, Russell's face following the crash. Right, on Sunday, nurses in Bangkok helped her to walk again for the first time since her back was broken. (Submitted by Leya Russell)

The fuselage of the Bombardier plane was broken in at least two spots, and its wings were broken off.

At this point, Russell knew she was hurt. But it wasn't until much later she'd learn she'd broken two vertebrae and compressed her spine, and had a serious concussion.

"It's so scary to be so hurt and not know anybody," she said.

'I can't move'

Eventually, she was taken by ambulance to one hospital, then another. 

"It is terrifying to be treated so roughly like they put me in the ambulances. They didn't strap me down. I'm just sliding around. I'm in extreme pain. I grabbed the woman and I'm like, 'Hold me, hold me.' Nobody can understand," she said. "I've broken my back. I can't move."

Russell said staff from the Canadian Embassy arrived and got her a translator and a CT scan, at which point they realized the extent of her injuries.

The Canadian Embassy retrieved her passport and arranged for her to be moved to Bangkok 12 hours later, but she said another passenger with an injured spine wasn't so lucky — missing the medical evacuation because he wasn't able to get his Australian passport back in time.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed to CBC News the department is aware of the incident and that a Canadian citizen is getting consular services, but said that because of the Privacy Act no further details can be disclosed.

No firm numbers on injuries

The Myanmar Times reported that 30 passengers and six crew were on the plane.

Russell said she was told by the airport authority that the crash was caused by the pilot landing at a high speed. Other reports suggests weather may have played a role. There were mixed reports as to how many passengers were injured, but Russell said to her knowledge many people were seriously hurt.

CBC News has asked the Yangon airport authority and the airline for comment.

On Sunday, Russell was finally able to walk again for the first time since she walked away from the rough landing, and her sister arrived to accompany her for her journey back home. She hopes to be back in Calgary by this weekend.

"I want to say I've already beat my fear of flying again. I flew in a tiny Cessna [medevac] in a storm like 12 hours later," she said.

"I love my job so much … and I won't let this stop me from doing that."

With a file from The Associated Press


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