GEOGETOWN, GUYANA (AFP) - Ten people were injured in scenes described as "chaos" as a Boeing airliner carrying 126 people, most of them Canadians, crash-landed in Guyana's capital Georgetown on Friday (Nov 9), skidding to a halt just before a steep drop.
The Fly Jamaica Airways plane was bound for Toronto when it suffered a hydraulic problem shortly after takeoff and returned to the airport, crashing and careening off the runway, Transportation Minister David Patterson said.
"Everyone was going crazy, screaming, crying for their lives, everything," said passenger Invor Bedessee, describing how some people were injured getting off the flight.
"There were (some people) injured because of coming down the slide or not getting off the flight fast enough, so the people behind them were kicking them," he told Canada's public broadcaster CBC.
"There was a lot of chaos." Bedessee said takeoff had been delayed by about 45 minutes because one of the left-side doors had "not closed properly" and a maintenance crew was called to fix the problem.
Patterson said the injuries were not life-threatening and the injured were taken to a hospital near the airport on the South America country's Atlantic coast.
Guyana's Chief Medical Officer, Shamdeo Persaud, said five of the injured had been referred to another hospital for "further investigation" for spinal injuries.
The 118 passengers on board the Boeing 757-200 included 82 Canadians. There were eight crew members.
"To date, we have no reports of any Canadian citizens being injured," said government spokesman Philip Hannan in Ottawa.
"Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens if needed." After departing at 2.10am (2.10pm Singapore time), the pilot reported a problem with the hydraulic system 10 minutes into the flight.
"We flew about 10, 15 minutes in the air, just over the Atlantic ocean, and we were circling around a few times and the captain announced there's some hydraulic problems, and we had to return to the airport," Bedessee told CBC.
"When we landed on the ground, the wheels were still spinning, they were not braking, there was no hydraulic brakes to brake the wheels and then we overshot the runway," the still-shaken passenger said.
Pictures showed the plane had ground to a halt in the sand just short of a steep incline.
"One of the wings came apart and the engine on the right side actually flipped over and we crashed into a big sand pile at the edge of a cliff. There's a big drop about 30, 40 feet (nine to 12 meters) on the other side," said Bedessee.
"If we had 10 more feet, we would be down in the cliff, down in the ditch. It was a miracle." A resident told AFP that she heard a loud explosion and when she went outdoors, she saw smoke.
"I saw bright lights and smoke, heard sirens, people screaming. I saw the plane turn off in an angle but before that I heard a loud explosion," Melana Perreira said.
'A lot of chaos'
Bedessee said the incident had left him "very shaken and very, I don't know, nervous." "It's like all of my goose bumps are going crazy, just it's a shock and awe, more or less," he said.
Director-General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, Egbert Field, said the pilots of the aircraft had not yet been interviewed but the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder had been removed from the wrecked plane and sent to the United States for analysis.
"They have been retrieved and will be sent to the National Transportation Safety Board for decoding," Field said.
Guyanese police and soldiers secured the crash site for investigators to begin working.
"We can confirm that Fly Jamaica flight OJ256 bound for Toronto has returned to Georgetown with a technical problem and has suffered an accident on landing," the airline said.
"At this time, we believe that all 118 passengers and eight crew members are safe. We are providing local assistance and will release further information as soon as it is available," it added.