There is such pathos in this image, poor broken plane–uncanny resemblance to a beached whale!
Well, that was a close call. Only a miracle kept AA Flight 331 from bursting into flames after it hit the ground running (as it were) last night. After a turbulent ride from Miami to Kingston, the 148 passengers were relieved and happy when the plane appeared to make a smooth landing; relieved enough to break into applause, the normal way for Jamaicans to celebrate a skillful touchdown. But then the plane proceeded to race down the runway without braking to a stop as it normally would. The Norman Manley International Airport’s runways extend almost into the sea and AA331 looked as if it was determined to make a splash, ripping through the fence at the perimeter of the airport, across the main road to Port Royal, before coming to an abrupt and violent halt on the rocky coastline on the other side of the road, merely ten feet from the sea. The impact was sudden enough to rip the fuselage apart breaking the plane up into three sections.
Inside the plane it was completely dark and the overhead compartments had disgorged their contents on the heads of the passengers below. “Open the doors! Open the doors!” they screamed. One passenger said he realized there was a problem when he felt the rain coming through the roof. In short time the crew got the emergency doors open and were ushering passengers through them as quickly as they could. The stench of fuel was overpowering and everyone was terrified that the plane would burst into flames at any minute. According to one passenger there was only one thing on their minds, to exit the plane by any means necessary and then run for their lives.
As they picked themselves off the ground the first passengers to disembark saw a bus waiting in the distance. They hurtled towards it, flinging themselves in with the help of the busdriver and a male JUTC employee who was with her.
Annette Howard, the busdriver, had just completed her last run for the day from Kingston to Port Royal. She asked an old friend, Horace Williams, to accompany her on the lonely trip back to town. As they approached the airport they saw the familiar sight of a plane landing, which made Annette wonder aloud “Bwoy when mi a go fly pon one o dem plane there?” Then something astounding happened. The plane taxied down the runway, burst through the fence and crossed the road in front of them. @!#$%?! exclaimed Annette, as the plane hit the rocky coast with a loud explosion like a bomb. A few minutes later the two friends watched in stupefaction as the plane doors opened and a stream of passengers issued forth running towards the bus for all they were worth.
While Annette helped as many passengers onto the bus as possible, Horace tried to call 911. He got through immediately but the policeman who answered refused to believe him when he said that an American Airlines jet had just crashed. The police initially hung up thinking it was a hoax…
Well, the rest is airline history. What i’ve recounted here is what i obtained from listening to Dionne Jackson-Miller’s programme on RJR radio this evening. At the end of this post there is a youtube video recounting more information on the crash.
Immediately below is a Facebook conversation (convo) between some media friends who are incensed at the tack taken by the international media which seem to be alleging that the Jamaican airport authorities are at fault for inadequately lit runways.Not surprisingly this has become an occasion for touting the virtues of the national airline, Air Jamaica, versus the bumbling foreign airline whose pilots clearly lack the skill of Jamaican pilots. Initials have been mildly disguised to protect identities.