Flight 331 lurched down the runway of Norman Manley International Airport in the Jamaican capital Tuesday night. Crews evacuated the passengers, who had to walk along a beach in the rain to board buses to reach the terminal.
Some 44 people were taken to nearby hospitals with broken bones and back pains, Information Minister Daryl Vaz told The Associated Press.
Four people were seriously injured, said Paul Hall, senior vice president of airport operations. But American Airlines said only two were admitted to the hospital and nobody suffered life-threatening injuries.
The plane’s fuselage was cracked, both engines broke off from the impact, and the left main landing gear collapsed, American Airline spokesman Tim Smith said. Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises, and none were life threatening, he said.
US federal investigators will analyze whether the plane should have been landing in such bad weather, Mr. Smith said, adding that other planes landed safely amid heavy rain.
Some passengers leaving the plane were seen with cuts on their faces or bloody lips. Some looked visibly shaken as they left the terminal wrapped in red blankets. Others ducked under umbrellas to escape the heavy downpour. Passenger Robert Mais told The Gleaner newspaper of Jamaica that he could hear the engine’s reverse throttle but that the plane didn’t seem to slow as it skittered down the runway.
He said he felt rain coming through the roof of the darkened jet after the impact and that baggage from the overhead compartments was scattered throughout the cabin. “Some (passengers) were shaken up badly,” he told the paper. The plane was about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) from the Caribbean Sea at that point, and passengers walked along the beach to be picked up by a bus, Mais said.
The Boeing 737-800, which originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington, had taken off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 p.m. and arrived in Kingston at 10:22 p.m. It was carrying 148 passengers and a crew of six, American said. The majority of those aboard were Jamaicans coming home for Christmas, Vaz said.
“All of a sudden, when it hit the ground, the plane was kind of bouncing, someone said the plane was skidding and there was panic,” Passenger Pilar Abaurrea of Keene, New Hampshire, said in a telephone interview.
As the crew opened the emergency exits and people scrambled to get off, Abaurrea, and her husband, Gary Wehrwein, noticed a number of people with injuries, including one person who had a cut on his head from falling baggage.
Abaurrea said the flight was very turbulent, with the crew being forced to halt the beverage service three times before finally giving it up. Just before landing, the pilot warned of more turbulence but said it likely wouldn’t be much worse than what they had experienced so far, she said.
Smith said there are two “significant cracks” in the fuselage but it is intact, and both engines came off the plane. He said the engines are designed to separate from the wings during an accident as a safety measure.
The airport reopened early Wednesday after officials had delayed flights because of concerns that the plane’s tail might be hindering visibility.
Some 400 passengers waited for their flights to be cleared for takeoff, Security Minister Dwight Nelson told Radio Jamaica.
Heavy rains that have pelted Jamaica’s eastern region for four days are expected to dissipate by Thursday. Authorities said the rains washed away a 7-year-old girl on Tuesday and led to a bus accident in which two people died.
Associated Press writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, Carol Druga in Atlanta and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.