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Air France Crash Update

August 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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LINDSAY TAYLOR: Flight 358 bursting into flames moments after the crash. The Air France flight from Paris to Toronto, carrying more than 300 passengers and crew, had skidded off the runway and landed in a wooded ravine, cameras on a nearby highway capturing the unfolding drama.

Passengers used emergency chutes, or simply leapt from the exits. Not all the chutes appear to have been deployed. The flames are clearly not far behind. Remarkably, some managed to snap these pictures as they fled for their lives; even the terrifying moments inside, as they scramble to evacuate the plane.

The aircraft had been circling due to bad weather. When it finally landed, there was spontaneous applause and cheering onboard, only for the euphoria to turn to horror.

PASSENGER: It was terrible, horrible. All people were screaming, there was fire, there was smoke, and we cannot do anything but run away, that’s it. I’m still here, and I still don’t believe it.

PASSENGER: First of all, you cannot do the duck down — the emergency duck down thing until basically the plane came to a stop, to a halt. And that’s when we start seeing the engine on fire, the left-side engine. The crew opened the gates, they inflated the thing, and we started jumping out of the plane.

PASSENGER: We were really holding to our seats until the plane complete crashed into the ravine and then the crew opened the emergency doors where there were not too much fire, not too much flames. We managed to jump from — we were like running away as fast we could from the plane, because our biggest fear at that point was that the plane would blow up.

LINDSAY TAYLOR: About 40 passengers suffered minor injuries, many due to jumping from the aircraft. Still, the majority emerged shocked, bewildered, but uninjured, and above all, immensely relieved to be alive and reunited with their loved ones.

In Paris, Air France praised its pilots and cabin crew, which it said were all experienced Air France staff; the 57-year-old pilot having logged more than 15,000 flying hours.

JEAN-CYRIL SPINETTA: Obviously, our flight attendants perfectly managed the situation, which explains — and not a miracle, I think — which explains that we have no dead people in this crash.

LINDSAY TAYLOR: A great escape perhaps, but it was also a very serious accident, for which air crash investigators will be seeking urgent answers. The plane left Paris Charles de Gaulle at 1:32 p.m. Local Time. At 10:10 Paris time, it landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The Airbus 340 has a good safety record, but as Flight 358, carrying its 297 passengers and 12 crew members, touched down, instead of slowing down to a stop, it overran the runway, possibly due to aquaplaning or being buffeted by strong winds. It skidded down a slope into a wooded ravine, bursting into flames as it came to halt next to one of Canada’s busiest roads.

Pilots’ organizations are calling for international discussions on safety improvements on runways.

BRUCE D’ANCEY: To prevent overruns there are methods. One is a runway and safety area which is a concrete area that gives the aircraft additional time to slow down and stop.

At airports like Toronto where there is not sufficient area, you can implement arrestor beds, which are areas where the aircraft — like an escape plate for a car — the aircraft goes into a soft ground area which slows it down without causing damage to people or the aircraft itself.

LINDSAY TAYLOR: European aircraft manufacturers and operators must satisfy regulators that the planes could be evacuated within 90 seconds in order to be certified to fly. In this case, the speed of the evacuation undoubtedly saved lives.

JIM LEHRER: Investigators said this afternoon they have now found the black boxes containing the flight data and voice recorders from the plane. They also said there did not appear to be anything wrong with the plane on its approach to the airport. As part of their investigation, they will try to determine whether lightning was a factor in the accident.