DURANGO, Mexico (AP) — A U.S. passenger aboard a flight that crashed on takeoff in northern Mexico said Wednesday that a strong burst of wind and hail hit the Aeromexico jetliner, apparently knocking it back to ground, where there were only moments to evacuate before it burned.
Alberto Herrera, a 35-year-old webpage engineer from Chicago, described the terrifying moments when the plane briefly became airborne before smacking belly-down onto a field beyond the edge of the runway.
“You start gaining speed and as soon as you start taking off all of the sudden the plane starts struggling and it’s getting hit with hail,” said Herrera, who was visiting the city of Durango for the baptism of his cousin’s baby.
“The higher up we went into the storm the heavier the hail got and more wind got to us,” he recounted from his hotel room. “Then all of a sudden the plane starts rocking and it starts seriously, seriously moving around and then hitting the ground.”
The fire around the wings eliminated the possibility of using wing exits, so Herrera said he moved toward a back exit and started helping other people leave the craft. Many walked to the end of the runway to wait for emergency vehicles.
Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro said all 99 passengers and four crewmembers made it off the plane, but the pilot was severely injured.
About 49 people were hospitalized with injuries. Some people had burns on a quarter of their bodies, said Durango state Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Ros.
Aispuro said all were expected to live.
An Illinois priest was on the plane. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago said the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez suffered some injuries, but was alert and resting.
Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, but certainly the weather wasn’t favorable
Aeromexico Chief Executive Officer Andres Conesa described the day as “very difficult” and credited the timely reaction of crew and passengers for the lack of fatalities.
Conesa said the passengers included 88 adults, nine children and two babies and the crew consisted of two flight attendants and two pilots.
He said the jetliner had been sent for maintenance in February and the crew was well-rested, having started their work day in Durango.