Jetliner crashes in Madrid, killing 153
Spain's worst air disaster in about 25 years; 19 survivors hospitalized
MADRID - A jetliner heading to the Canary Islands crashed during takeoff yesterday, killing at least 153 people in Spain's worst air disaster in nearly 25 years.
Only 19 people survived the midafternoon crash of the Spanair MD-82 at Madrid's Barajas International Airport, and some were in critical condition, said Spain's development minister, Magdalena Alvarez, whose department oversees civil aviation.
The airline didn't release a death toll but said the plane was carrying 172 people, including a crew of nine.
A spokesman for Spanair, a Spanish company owned by Scandinavian Airlines, said the cause of the crash was not immediately known. Investigators were looking into reports that one of the engines caught fire. Alvarez said investigators had ruled out foul play and considered the crash an accident. She said the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered.
As smoke billowed from the wreckage, dozens of firetrucks and ambulances rushed to help. Helicopters flew overhead, dumping water on fires.
"The scene is devastating," said Pablo Albella, an emergency rescue worker. "The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction."
Rescuers rushed the few survivors to hospitals, while emergency workers covered the dead with white sheets.
Later, a convoy of black hearses rolled onto the airport grounds to carry bodies to a makeshift morgue set up at Madrid's main convention center. Flight departures resumed after several hours.
Alvarez said the jetliner had barely gotten airborne about 2:45 p.m. when it veered right, crashed, and broke into pieces.
While preparing for a first takeoff attempt, the plane's pilot reported a breakdown in a gauge that measures temperature outside the plane. The gauge was fixed, delaying the departure, said Spanair spokeswoman Susana Vergara.
On the second takeoff attempt, the plane crashed.
The Spanair spokesman, Sergio Allard, said Flight JK5022 to Las Palmas, a city on Grand Canary Island, originated in Barcelona. It was a code-share with Flight LH255 of the German carrier Lufthansa.
Allard declined to give any information on the nationalities of those on board, saying relatives had to be notified first.
In Germany, Lufthansa said that it had issued tickets to seven people who checked in for the flight and that four of those were from Germany. It was unclear whether they were German citizens.
Sweden's Foreign Ministry said two Swedes were on the plane. It said that one was at a hospital and that the other was unaccounted for.
The Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off West Africa, are a popular vacation destination for European tourists.
The crash was Spain's worst air disaster since 1983, when a
The deadliest disaster in aviation history occurred in Spain in 1977, when two Boeing 747s collided on a runway in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people.
After being informed of the crash yesterday, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero broke off his vacation in southern Spain and rushed back to Madrid, heading straight for the airport.
Queen Elizabeth II sent condolences to King Juan Carlos of Spain. "I was deeply saddened to learn of the dreadful loss of life in today's aircraft crash at Barajas Airport in Madrid, the news of which has shocked us all," she said.
In an expression of mourning, a soccer match in Copenhagen between the national teams of Denmark and Spain started with a moment of silence, and players on both teams wore black armbands.
Allard said that the plane passed an inspection in January and that no problems had been reported since then. The plane was 15 years old and has been owned by Spanair the past nine, he said.
The DC-9/MD-80 family of twin-engine, medium-range jetliners enjoyed wide popularity among the world's airlines in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
But it has had a number of fatal accidents, the deadliest of which was a crash of an Adria Airways flight in Corsica in 1981, when all 180 people on board perished.
In Copenhagen, Mats Jansson, the chief executive of Spanair's owner, Scandinavian Airlines, said he had no information about the accident.
Jansson and his deputy, John Dueholm, were on their way home from the Beijing Olympics when they learned about the accident and immediately decided to fly to Madrid with a team of crisis counselors.
Spanair has a fleet of more than 60 aircraft and runs about 600 flights daily.
Crashes during takeoff or landing are some of the most common aviation accidents.
In July 2007, 199 people were killed in Brazil's worst air disaster, when an Airbus A320 belonging to TAM airlines skidded off a runway at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport and smashed into a gas station and an air cargo building.
Five people died and 65 were injured May 30 when an A320 belonging to Grupo Taca skidded off the end of a runway at Toncontin International Airport near the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.