Source: Investigators Look At Wind Shear, Wind Gust As Possible Cause
Thomas Hendrick and Kim Ngan Nguyen, 7NEWS Staff
POSTED: 7:22 pm MST December 20, 2008
UPDATED: 2:45 am MST December 21, 2008
DENVER -- A Continental Airlines jet taking off from Denver International Airport Saturday night veered off the runway, plunging into a ravine and catching fire, forcing 112 passengers and crew members to evacuate on emergency slides and then flee uphill to safety.
The passengers were treated and triaged at the airport and 38 people were transported to the hospital, said Denver International Airport manager of aviation Kim Day. Ten people were transported to Denver Health, nine people to University of Colorado Hospital, four people to Swedish Medical Center and 15 to Aurora Medical Center.
There were no deaths involved and the majority of the injuries were minor, the airport said. Fourteen people have moderate injuries and the rest have minor injuries, said Denver Health spokesman Scott Bookman. University of Colorado Hospital said two of its patients were initially listed in fair condition but are now listed in critical with fractures.
Continental Flight 1404 was leaving Denver for Houston at 6:18 p.m., when something went wrong, said Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The sequence of the events remains unclear but airport officials said the Boeing 737 had traveled 2,000 feet down the runway when it suddenly veered 200 feet from Runway 34 Right and down a ravine.
It's not clear if the plane ever got off the ground but debris scattered on the runway indicate that it had lifted off, at least briefly, said Denver Fire Department Division Chief Patrick Hynes.
"The plane's wheels had completely sheared off," Hynes said.
The plane's right wing caught fire and the flames spread to the cabin and the cockpit, but only after 107 passengers and five crew members were evacuated from the aircraft.
Many of the injuries were the result of a emergency exit chute on the left side of the plane, which was about 6 feet short of the ground, according to people who talked to Call 7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski. Passengers were rapidly sliding down the chute, but when the reached the end of it, they fell another six feet before hitting the ground. There were many broken bones and bruises as a result of the escape.
A source told 7NEWS that two of the 38 people injuries were Continental crew members.
Source: Investigators To Look Closely At Wind Shear
A source close to the initial investigation who spoke to Kovaleski said investigators are looking very closely at wind shear and a potential gust of wind as the cause of the plane crash. Investigators with the National Transportation Board, who arrived around midnight, will be inspecting instruments at the airport that measure wind shear as part of their investigation.
There was a crosswind of 31 knots at the time of the crash, airport officials said.
Two passengers who are from Northern Colorado, and were on the way to Houston for the holidays, said they were sitting on the left side of the plane when they felt a wind gust move them off the runway, causing the plane to bank heavily to the right and forcing the right wing to hit the ground.
"All of the sudden, the plane just turned sideways," said one passenger, who asked not to be identified. "We were going down the runway and it was just ... It was like we were in the air and then we weren't."
"They had a very stiff crosswind tonight -- 31knots -- that's pretty stiff. Taking off in an aircraft, it can give you the feeling that the airplane is actually flying. The plane is starting to ride real light on the struts, so people may have thought they were flying, when in actuality the airplane was still on the ground," said Greg Feith a former NTSB Investigator.
"It could have been more catastrophic if that had happened in flight," he said.
Passengers Describe Frightening Sight -- Fire
"I closed my eyes, started to doze off... and we started getting up to speed, and right about the time I thought the plane should be starting to take off... we started to turn. I opened my eyes and looked down out of the window, and we were still on the ground. We hit a bump, took flight for a little bit, everybody in the cabin started screaming a little bit, and we hit another bump," said Alex Zamora, who was on board the flight.
He said he was sitting in the eighth row, which he said was right over the engine that caught fire and that's all he could see.
"At some point, the engine that was to my right seemed to blow up. I could see the fire out of the windows and we were still making forward progress. We hit something and stopped," Zamora said. "Someone went to open the emergency door on my side, but someone stopped him because obviously there was fire just outside the door."
Zamora said he was sitting in the emergency exit row on the right side of the plane but they couldn't exit that way.
"They got the emergency door open on the other side. We all piled out ... There was already smoke in the cabin and people were jumping over seats. People in the front and rear had exits, but the people in the middle only had one exit because of the fire on my side. At first everyone was pushing and shoving, the wing was smashed on the side where we're exiting and everyone was falling a little but most of us got out OK," Zamora said. "After we all piled out we started to run up to a hill towards an emergency building that houses fire trucks."
Zamora said he has a couple bruises and a couple cuts on his hand but there were some people reporting back pain and neck pain.
Other passengers talked about how there was a shared sense of camraderie and relief after the incident, with high-fives going around as they waited in the terminal to be processed.
Boulder resident Mike Wilson was onboard the flight and has been twittering ever since the crash.
"My glasses fell off in the mass exodus getting off the plane," Wilson wrote. "Can't see very well."
Wilson said he was taken to the Continental presidents club at the airport "until they can sort everything out."
Wilson, who goes by the screen name 2drinksbehind, said, "You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can't even get a vodka-tonic. Boo."
He seems to be dealing with the crash with some humor.
"This was crash #2 for me. Maybe I should start taking the bus," he wrote.
Andrew Lefkiw, who was supposed to be on the flight, said his shuttle from Telluride was delayed so he missed the flight. His friend, however, was on the flight and was being treated for smoke inhalation. Lefkiw said his friend described how luggage from the overhead compartment fell on them as the interior shelf started melting due to the heat from the fire.
Firefighters Describe Surreal Sight
When firefighters arrived minutes after the crash they had a difficult time narrowing down exactly where the plane ended up, said Denver Fire Chief Patrick Hynes.
"They described a surreal scene. Heavy fire on the right side of the aircraft, all chutes deployed, from both sides of the aircraft, people evacuating and walking up the hillside toward them," Hynes said. "Much like a movie, some people coming out of the smoke and up the hill."
Hynes said the fire burned the entire right side of the plane but the plane remains intact. Melted plastic from the overhead compartments dripped onto the seats down below, he said.
"We were able to extinguish the fire rather quickly. It was described as a heck of a firefight from the commanding officer. He was very proud of how his crews reacted, and the outcome of this incident," Hynes said.
Debris remained on the runway, with the plane about 200 yards away. The plane will remain in the ravine until investigators have cleared the site. Airport officials are expected to bus media crews out to the site.
Delays Ripple Through DIA; Delays Expected Sunday
Even thought the fire was quickly extinguished there was a lot of activity at the airport.
The west airfield will remain closed, said Airport Manager Kim Day.
She said the airport is up and running with about a 40-minute delay for all flights. She said the delays will continue through Sunday and suggested passengers who have flights out of DIA on Sunday call their airline to check on the status of their flight.
Crash Investigation Continues Into Daylight
The investigation into what caused the plane to veer off Runway 34 Right at the Whiskey Charlie intersection is expected to take weeks, if not months.
"At daylight they're going to be mapping the wreckage on the runway. They're going to be looking for debris because that's going to give them some clues whether there's a problem with the airplane that led to an aborted takeoff," Feith said. "The other two things that are going to be critical are the flight data recorder and the cockpit recorder, which will tell the investigators what happened, not necessarily why."
Continental released a statement Saturday night saying, "Continental and Denver International Airport are providing assistance to the passengers at this time. A number of injuries have been reported and authorities are transporting passengers and crew to area medical facilities as necessary. The company is in the process of collecting additional information and will communicate additional information once it is known."
Continental's management team will fly out Sunday morning to Denver to handle the situation and help with the investigation.
Continental chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner said any passenger on this flight, who wants to get to Houston quickly, will be taken care of on an individual basis. Several passengers who were not injured have already been booked on other flights for Sunday.
The passengers who weren't taken to the hospitals were shuttled to a secure location within the airport terminal, where they met with family members, airline personnel and Red Cross workers.
Anyone who has a family member on the flight and who would like to know about that family member's status can call Continental Airlines at 800-621-3263.
Crash First Major Incident At DIA
This is the first major crashe at DIA since in opened in Feb. 28, 1995.
The last time Denver experienced a major plane incident was at Stapleton International Airport on Sunday, Nov. 15, 1987, where 28 people died and 54 survived. It involved a Continental DC 9 headed for Boise, Idaho that crashed in a heavy snowstorm. The plane had deiced but sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes before taking off on Runway 35 Left. The NTSB determined that the cause of the accident was the captain's failure to have the airplane deiced a second time after a delay before takeoff.
Tags: 737 Catches Fire On Takeoff At DIA, Plunges Into Ravine
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
Views: 10463 | Comments: 6 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 2 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
|Liveleak on Facebook|