103 people survive Aeromexico plane crash

A strong wind gust brought down an Aeromexico plane carrying 103 people in northern Mexico, leading to a fiery crash that left dozens aboard injured but no fatalities, Durango state officials say.

Posted: Aug 2, 2018 5:58 AM
Updated: Aug 2, 2018 6:17 AM

An Aeromexico flight carrying 103 people crashed just after taking off from an airport in northwestern Mexico, forcing passengers to escape via emergency slides before the aircraft went up in flames.

No one died.

And although that might be surprising to many people, it's in line with recent developments in aviation safety, CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said Wednesday.

"It's actually getting to be more typical, more the rule than the exception," Schiavo said, noting that no one dies in 87% of air crashes, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

"It's the science of crashworthiness that has really improved over the last 20 years to help people survive a crash," Schiavo said. "Before then, you used to think a plane crash (meant) everyone would die. Not so anymore."

Maria Guadalupe Herrera Olguin of Houston, who was visiting family in Durango, Mexico, was traveling with five relatives. The passengers were terrified, she said. Some were screaming. The plane came to a stop, she said, and everyone began hastily disembarking.

"I followed them, but since I brought my baby in my arms and my mother stayed a bit in front, I gave her to my older daughter and told her, 'Go, go!' and I went back for my mother," she said. "I got her and we all left together."

Olguin spoke with a brace around her neck. Dozens were transferred to hospitals after the crash. Sixty-four have been released, according to the airline, and Mexico's Health Ministry reported Wednesday that 25 people remain hospitalized.

Among them are the pilot, who is in serious condition after a five-hour surgery, and an 8-year-old girl who suffered burns over a quarter of her body, Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Rios said.

NTSB joining investigation

Flight 2431 -- which was bound for Mexico City, roughly 550 miles from General Guadalupe Victoria International Airport outside Durango -- appears to have gone down amid strong winds.

"The control tower noticed strong wind currents, and this could have caused the accident," Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro said Tuesday night in a news conference.

No one has provided an official cause for the crash. Two investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board were flying to Mexico on Wednesday to assist in the investigation, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. He said Mexican officials would lead the investigation.

Embraer, the Brazilian maker of the aircraft, stands ready to assist authorities as well, the company said.

The left wing of the twin-engine jet initially touched the ground, causing the plane to lose both engines. The plane then skidded off the runway, stopping about 300 meters (985 feet) away, Aispuro said.

'I saw the flames in the front cabin'

It felt like the aircraft was struggling to reach takeoff speed amid the heavy rain and wind before it hit the ground twice, said Anabel Estrada, a passenger from Joliet, Illinois.

"It began to lift up and that plane did not have enough velocity," she said. "It was going against the air, the rain and I don't know what else, but it didn't have enough speed."

Added Jose Luis Corral, who lives in Oregon: "The plane took off, and then it went up and down and back up again and then it slid on the runway."

The second impact with the ground was much stronger than the first, Estrada said.

"That was when I jumped up and got all banged up," she said. "I saw the flames in the front cabin and so that's when the plane stopped and in the back there was already a door open."

Passengers and crew members evacuated the plane using emergency slides before fire engulfed the aircraft, officials said.

Images from the scene show flames and a column of smoke rising from an aircraft on the ground among bushes and tall grass.

"We are deeply saddened by this incident, and we would like to assure everyone that Group Aeromexico (is) offering its support, thoughts and prayers to those affected and their families," said Andres Conesa, the airline's chief executive.

Aeromexico has operated the 10-year-old aircraft since 2014, according to the airline.

Clergy, web developer among passengers

Among the 99 passengers were 11 children, including two infants. Four crew members were also on board.

The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, a priest from Des Plaines, Illinois, whose parents hail from Durango, had traveled to Mexico with 14 others to celebrate his 50th birthday and was returning home. He was sitting at the front of the plane, and the weather was so bad he wondered if the pilot might cancel the takeoff.

It felt like something pushed the plane back down as it lifted off the runway, he said from his hospital bed in Durango.

"It was very violent. I think because we lost velocity, the plane didn't flip over. We were able to get out. The crew did a great job getting everybody out," he said, adding that the plane caught fire despite the heavy downpour.

Sanchez, who suffered multiple fractures to his arm, was placed on an ambulance with a girl who suffered burns on her legs, he said. His arm will require surgery, he said, joking that when he gets home people will call him "the bionic priest." The rest of his group suffered abrasions and minor neck and back injuries.

"If the plane was any faster, the plane would have flipped. If the plane was any higher, the story would have been very different," he said. "(I) certainly hold miracles as a part of daily life. ... We didn't lose anyone, and that was a miracle."

At least 65 US citizens were aboard, according to a State Department official.

Another Illinois resident, Al Herrera, 35, was in Durango for a baptism and was returning to Chicago when the plane crashed, according to his sister, Gabriela Herrera. Al Herrera jumped into action, helping elderly passengers and others off the plane before evacuating himself, she told CNN.

"My mom saw the plane on the news first and had a feeling it was the plane (Al) was on," she said. "The plane crash was really horrible to watch on TV. There was fire everywhere. Smoke was coming out. I got the news before I saw it on TV, thankfully. I knew he was OK, but he did mention other passengers were badly injured."

Al Herrera's employer, the marketing firm Dean Houston, where Herrera is a web designer, said his heroic actions weren't a surprise.

"From everyone that works with him on a daily basis, they describe him as a big teddy bear," the company said in a statement. "Hearing that he helped some senior citizens off the plane, that embodies the gentleman we know. He's a people pleaser and a team player."

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