News / Canada

Plane hit antenna array before crash: TSB

HALIFAX - An Air Canada plane that crashed at the Halifax airport was about 335 metres short of the runway before it hit an antenna array, which ripped off its main landing gear, the Transportation Safety Board said Sunday.

The aircraft also lost one of its two engines and left a trail of debris as it skidded along the asphalt for another 335 metres early Sunday morning before it came to a stop, said Mike Cunningham, the agency's regional manager of air investigations.

"Obviously, it's too early to draw any conclusions about this occurrence. These things are always very complex," Cunningham told a news conference.

"This type of event is on the TSB's watch list and so it's a very great concern to us and we'll be putting our maximum effort into determining what happened."

Air Canada Flight 624 left Toronto just before 9 p.m. Saturday carrying 133 passengers and five crew members. It landed in the midst of a snowstorm at 12:43 a.m., Air Canada said.

Klaus Goersch, the company's chief operating officer, said earlier in the day the two pilots flying the plane circled above Halifax Stanfield International Airport before concluding the conditions were suitable for landing.

"It was safe to fly in this weather. The aircraft did circle for a period of time but when the approach was initiated, the weather was at the approach minimums," Goersch told a news conference.

"The weather was appropriate for landing."

The Halifax area was under a snowfall warning at the time and Goersch said wind speeds were 30 knots, or about 55 kilometres per hour.

Cunningham said he can't rule out weather as a factor.

There was conflicting information on the number of people injured after the accident. Air Canada and the airport said 23 people were taken to hospital, but Goersch later said 25 were hospitalized and all but one of them were released.

None of the injuries were considered life-threatening, Air Canada said.

"All of us at Air Canada are greatly relieved that there have been no critical injuries as a result of this incident," he said.

"It obviously has been very unsettling for our customers and their families and we have been working very hard with them to take care of them and see after their needs."

One of the passengers said the experience was "definitely pretty scary."

"You just feel happy to be alive," said Dominic Stettler of Wolfville, N.S.

Stettler, 31, said the flight crew told passengers that conditions at the airport weren't good and they would circle for an hour to see if things improved. If they didn't, the flight was going to head to Moncton, N.B., he said.

"And then there was a window of visibility and we went for it," said Stettler.

Randy Hall and his wife Lianne Clark were on their way home from a Mexican vacation when the plane ran in to trouble.

"We just thought that we were landing hard. And when the ... air bags started to deploy and you saw things falling on the floor, we said, 'Oh no. We've got to get out,' '' said Clark, a computer consultant.

"We just opened the doors when we landed and everyone started to pile out."

Hall said passengers left the plane immediately but they were left standing on the tarmac, some in their stocking feet, as they were lashed by snow before buses arrived to shuttle them from the scene.

Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said the airport is reviewing its response.

"We feel badly that they were out there as long as they were," he said.

"From what we understand, the aircraft was evacuated within 60 seconds, which is a credit to the crew and a credit to the passengers."

Everyone on board was fortunate to have survived the experience, Cunningham said.

"I'd say they're pretty lucky," he added.

A team of 12 to 15 investigators has been assigned to review what happened, Cunningham said, adding that officials from France's accident investigation board and aircraft manufacturer Airbus are also expected in Halifax.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorders have been recovered and sent to Ottawa for analysis, Cunningham said.

The power went off at the airport, which meant an emergency response centre had to be moved to a nearby hotel, Spurway said.

Cunningham said he believed that was the result of a power line being severed outside the airport property.

Goersch said Air Canada has spoken with the pilots, who suffered minor injuries, but they have not been able to say what happened.

The pilots have been with Air Canada for about 15 years and they haven't been involved in any other crashes, Goersch added.

— With files from Michael MacDonald, Gregory Strong and Michael Tutton

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