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Americas

Passenger plane crashes after being struck by lightning, killing one

Video by Mark THOMPSON

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2010-08-16

A Boeing 737 passenger jet with 131 people on board was struck by lightning while landing at a Colombian island on Monday, breaking it into three pieces and killing one person.

AFP - A plane crash during a lightning storm in Colombia Monday killed one person and injured another 120, with officials calling it a "miracle" that more people did not die in the accident.

The Boeing 737-700 split into three pieces after being hit by lightning while landing on the Colombian resort island of San Andres in the Caribbean, leaving passengers "literally scattered over the end of the runway," a police statement said.

A 73-year-old woman died of a heart attack in hospital shortly after the crash, according to a statement from aviation authorities, who said more than 120 people were hurt, five seriously.

Lightning struck the aircraft, which had taken off from the Colombian capital Bogota, barely 80 meters (yards) above the runway, authorities said.

Six crew members and several foreign passengers had been on board, including four Brazilians and six French nationals, officials said.

San Andres's governor Pedro Gallardo called it a stroke of good fortune that there were not more casualties among the 131 people on board.

"We thank God for the miracle granted to this archipelago," he said.

"The captain, the co-pilot and all the crew are safe," Gallardo told national Radio Caracol, hailing the rapid response of a team of firefighters at the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla airport.

"They went immediately to the site and responded in a fantastic way, as if it was a routine operation," the governor said.

The pilot briefly lost control but showed skill in keeping the plane on the runway, said general Orlando Paez Baron, director of civil security from national police, in a radio interview.

"The impact dislodged the plane's motors and it split into three pieces," he added.

The plane, from Colombia's Aires airline, left Bogota shortly after midnight (0500 GMT) and crashed in San Andres in conditions of reduced visibility about two hours later, according to local air traffic controllers.

Police, ambulances and even taxis took the injured to local hospitals, Gallardo said.

"We were fine until we started to descend," said survivor Heriberto Rua, who had been traveling with his wife and five children, in comments to Radio Caracol.

Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia's Civil Aviation, said investigators were on their way to the Caribbean island.

Lightning, as an electrical force, cannot be the sole cause of an accident, but a sharp change in wind direction or an air pocket linked to lightning when a plane is near the ground could cause a crash, according to aeronautical specialists.

Date created : 2010-08-16

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