Crash investigators give update after Boeing 737 slides off runway into Florida river

by - 4 min read

Crash investigators give update after Boeing 737 slides off runway into Florida river

by - 4 min read

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A charter plane carrying 143 people and travelling from Cuba to north Florida ended up in a river at the end of a runway Friday night, though no critical injuries or deaths were reported, officials said.

A Boeing 737 arriving at Naval Air Station Jacksonville from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with 136 passengers and seven aircrew slid off the runway into the St. Johns River, a NAS Jacksonville news release said.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team of 16 investigators to the scene to determine what caused the accident.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office posted on Twitter that a marine unit responded to assist passengers and crew who had lined up on the plane’s wings. The plane was in shallow water and not submerged. Everyone on the plane was alive and accounted for, the agency posted, with 21 adults transported to local hospitals in good condition.

Watch: Daytime images emerge of Boeing 737 that slid off runway

New daytime images emerge of a Boeing 737 that slid off a runway into a Florida river. 1:01

A photo posted by deputies shows a Miami Air International logo on the plane. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.

Civilians and military personnel

Capt. Michael Connor, the commanding officer of NAS Jacksonville, said during a news conference that passengers were a mix of civilian and military personnel. Some were staying in the area, while others were set to fly on to other parts of the country.

The plane was carrying 136 passengers and seven crew when it ended up in the river. (Monica R. Hopper/U.S. Navy via AP)

While the crash certainly wasn’t ideal, Connor acknowledged that it could have been much worse.

“I think it is a miracle,” Connor said. “We could be talking about a different story this evening.”

A passenger who was on the flight described to CNN what happened after the plane had a “really hard landing.”

“We couldn’t tell where we were, whether it was a river or an ocean,” Cheryl Bormann told CNN. “There was rain coming down. There was lightning and thunder. And we stood on that wing for a significant period of time. The rescue folks came. Eventually someone inflated a life raft that had been on the plane and we began climbing into it. Everybody was helping everybody.”

It wasn’t known how long it would take to remove the plane from the river, but Connor said the landing gear appeared to be resting on the river bed, making it unlikely for the aircraft to float away. Officer Connor said crews began working to contain any jet fuel leaks almost immediately after securing the passengers’ safety.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry posted on Twitter that teams were working to control jet fuel in the water.

Liz Torres told the Florida Times-Union that she heard what sounded like a gunshot Friday night from her home in Orange Park, about eight kilometres south of NAS Jacksonville. She then drove down to a Target parking lot where police and firefighters were staging to find out more.

This police handout photo shows the charter plane that was travelling from Cuba to north Florida after it crash-landed in a river at the end of a runway on Friday in Jacksonville, Fla. (Jacksonville police/Twitter)

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department posted on Twitter that approximately 90 personnel responded to the scene, adding that the department’s special operations team had trained with marine units for a similar incident earlier Friday.

Navy security and emergency response personnel were on the scene and monitoring the situation, the Navy release said. Family members who were expecting the arrival of passengers were instructed to stand by.

Officials did not immediately say what caused the plane to leave the runway. Boeing said in a tweet Friday night that it was investigating: “We are aware of an incident in Jacksonville, Fla., and are gathering information.”

The Federal Aviation Administration was referring media inquiries to NAS Jacksonville.

A Boeing 737 plane arriving from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba went off the Naval Air Station Jacksonville runway in Florida and into the St. Johns River on Friday night. (CBC)

This story originally appeared on CBC

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