An Air France passenger jet skidded off a runway while landing in a thunderstorm and fell into a ravine Tuesday night. TV cameras captured dramatic images of the plane in flame. There were 309 passengers on board. Everyone survived by jumping to safety in the moments before the plane burst into flames.
Twenty-four people suffered minor injuries in the 4:03 p.m. (2003 GMT) crash landing of Air France Flight 358 from Paris. It is the first time an Airbus A340 had crashed in its 13 years of commercial service.
The plane, carrying 297 passengers and 12 crew, overran the runway by 200 yards (meters) at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, said Steve Shaw, a vice president of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
The aircraft skidded down a slope into a wooded area next to one of Canada's busiest highways, and some survivors said that passengers scrambled up to the road to catch rides with passing cars. Relatives and friends were taken to the Sheraton hotel at the airport and asked to wait there until the passengers joined them.
Several hours later, passengers in red blankets were taken on buses to the airport Sheraton. Gwen Dunlop of Toronto said she was returning from vacation in France.
"It happened so quickly," she was quoted as saying by Daily News. "It was a little bit like being in a movie."
She said at first the passengers believed they had landed safely and clapped with relief.
"Only seconds later it started really moving and obviously it wasn't OK," said Dunlop. "At some point the wing was off. The oxygen masks never came down; the plane was filling up with smoke."
Television pictures, beamed around the world, showed black smoke billowing from the wreckage and at one point a fireball appeared to erupt from the front end of the fuselage. Emergency vehicles lined up behind the broken aircraft in a wooded area near Highway 401, Canada's busiest highway, and a fire truck doused the flames.
The plane was believed to have been trying to land in bad weather.
"There was quite a downpour. The visibility was really bad, with lots of lightning," said John Finday, a CBC News journalist who was at the airport filming a weather-related story.
Sgt. Glyn Griffiths of the Peel Regional Police said emergency and fire crews from several divisions as well as at the airport responded to the crash, Globe and Mail informs.
Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz say that flight operations at Toronto's Pearson International Airport remain uncertain following the closing of the airport.
Domestic and U.S. transborder flights to and from Toronto have been cancelled. Operations at Toronto airport are limited to a single runway and Air Canada will focus on accommodating the departure of its international flights from Toronto, and Toronto-bound aircraft diverted to other Canadian airports.
Air Canada expects to resume domestic and U.S. flights on Wednesday as quickly as possible. The airline is advising passengers to check on the status of their flight before leaving for the airport by consulting the Air Canada website at aircanada.com.
See photo report on Toronto crash