A Colombian airliner carrying 132 people crashed and broke into pieces while landing during a storm on the Caribbean resort island of San Andres Monday, but only one person died in what police called “a miracle.”
Authorities said 114 passengers were hurt in the predawn crash of the Boeing 737-700 passenger jet operated by local airline Aires, adding that the lone death was due to a heart attack and not injuries from the accident.
A Colombian aviation official said the pilot reported that the plane had been struck by lightning. Witnesses said it was fortunate more people were not killed considering the plane’s fuselage cracked into three parts on impact.
“It’s a miracle,” National Police General Orlando Paez said. “The skill of the pilot kept the plane from sliding off the runway. The engines of the aircraft shut down on impact.”
The jet was carrying 126 passengers, including four children, and six crew members, an aeronautics official told Reuters. The flight from the Colombian capital Bogota to San Andres crashed on landing amid lightning and strong winds.
The injured were taken to local hospitals. Most were later transported by air ambulance to Bogota for further care.
A woman passenger identified as Amar Fernandez de Barreto suffered a heart attack just after the accident and died on her way to a local clinic.
“The pilot of the plane told us it was struck by lightning. We are inspecting the wreckage to try to establish what the damages were and what caused the accident,” said Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia’s aeronautics authority.
The San Andres airport was closed to allow the investigation to proceed.
“We were fine until they announced that we were about to land,” said passenger Heriberto Rua, who was on his way to San Andres for a vacation with his wife and five daughters.
“Then I felt an impact. My seat was knocked loose but I was able to unbuckle myself and get two of my daughters out.”
Colombian Transportation Minister German Cardona told reporters that the plane had been inspected eight days earlier and found to be in good mechanical condition. “It was a new plane, recently acquired by Aires,” he said.
Boeing issued a statement saying it was sending a team to San Andres, at the invitation of Colombian authorities, to inspect the wreckage and help establish the cause of the crash.
In March 2005 a Let 410 passenger plane crashed on the island of Providencia, near San Andres, killing seven.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Anthony Boadle)
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