As It Happens

Mexico plane crash survivor describes harrowing plummet to ground

The first thing Alberto Herrera did after surviving a flaming plane crash in northern Mexico on Tuesday was go back to his hotel to have a nice, strong drink.

'I'm like, oh God, this might be the end of me,' says Aeromexico plane crash survivor

Alberto Herrera, 35, of Chicago, was aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431 when it crashed shortly after takeoff in Durango, Mexico. (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)
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The first thing Alberto Herrera did after surviving a flaming plane crash in northern Mexico on Tuesday was go back to his hotel to have a nice, stiff drink. 

"I had a tequila and like a big, big, big burger," the 35-year-old web developer told As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. 

"I told [the bartender], 'Make it a double shot of your best tequila.'"

All 103 passengers and crew members aboard Aeromexico flight 2431 to Mexico City survived after the jetliner crashed during takeoff amid a severe storm in Durango on Tuesday.​

Aeromexico said 64 people have been released from hospital. Two people, including the pilot, were more seriously injured.

Wind, hail and flames

Herrera said the flight started normally enough. 

There was a "light drizzle" as the plane was prepared for takeoff, he said, but "nothing out of the ordinary."

"Once the plane started taking off, we saw that it was not rain, it was actually hail," he said. "With like gusty, gusty wind."

The wind shook the aircraft, he said, causing it to tilt and sway until finally it plummeted back down to the ground. 

"You're kind of, like, bracing for impact so you don't think about it," he said. "You're just like, boom, oh my God, oh my God, this is happening, this is happening."

Red Cross workers and rescue workers carry an injured person on a stretcher, right, as airline workers, left, walk away from the site where an Aeromexico airliner crashed in a field near the airport. (Red Cross Durango via AP)

Then the plane slammed into the ground.

"Imagine hitting, like, a super hard brick wall that it just jolts you forwards and backwards," Herrera said. "But that wasn't the worst part."

Once the plane hit the ground, he said it kept sliding out of control, and he felt another hard bump. 

"When we jolted again, the flames shot up and you can see the flames on the side, and then we're still moving forward," he said.

"I'm like, oh God, this might be the end of me."

'A mad dash to get out'

Herrera said he felt a third jolt, and the flaming plane finally ground to a halt.

"And then it was just a mad dash to get out of the plane as black smoke was filling the cabin," he said.

Officials said the impact ripped both engines off the Embraer 190 jetliner, and fire immediately broke out in the wings.

Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, he said, but certainly the weather wasn't favourable.

Mexico's transport department said the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was sending two investigators to assist in the probe, and the plane's manufacturer would also participate.

Once the plane stopped moving, Herrera said the emergency slide at the back exit deployed but the fuselage was at an odd angle, so it was unusable and people had to jump to the ground.

He said he helped other passengers climb out of the plane, and tried to help calm those who were panicking.

He saw people with broken limbs and bloody wounds.

"People were badly injured," he said. "I was one of the fortunate ones that only came away with scratches."

A panic-inducing flight home 

Despite the crash, Herrera was on a flight back home to Chicago the very next day.

"I got on that runway. I got on a plane that was like an exact duplicate of the one that crashed," he said.

"Everything came flooding back. I felt every, every little bump, to be honest with you. I swelled up with emotions like the entire hour flight."

Herrera stands outside the hotel where he stayed after surviving the Aeromexico crash. (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)

But once he got home, he said, he was OK.

"I hugged my sister. It was awesome. I hugged my mom. It was awesome. I hugged my Grandma. It was great," he said.

"I'm super fortunate. I only walked away with a couple of scratches on my leg. That's it. I'll deal with the head stuff as it comes. I'll deal with it. But from a physical standpoint, I'm OK."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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