Caribbean Airlines plane runs off runway, breaks in two

-41 passengers went to hospitals, three admitted

A Caribbean Airlines plane early this morning ran off the runway on landing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri resulting in several persons having to be rescued from the aircraft. The plane broke in two. It was one of the worst accidents to hit the airline in its long history.

The Caribbean Airlines’ Boeing 737-800, operating as flight BW523, lies broken off the runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, Guyana today. (Photo by Aubrey Crawford)

Around midday today, the Timehri Airport reopened to traffic. There were many people milling about as flights backed up. Luggage from the flight that ran off the runway is still to be collected as aviation officials and passengers try to come to grips with what happened.  The airline held a press conference this morning at the Timehri airport. It says a full investigation has been launched into the incident with the Boeing 737-800 and a post-trauma team is due to arrive here shortly from Trinidad to assist passengers who were aboard the plane.

The model of plane that broke into two on landing today. (www.plainspotters.net) In a statement at 8 am today, Caribbean Airlines said that at 1.32 am today, the Caribbean Airlines aircraft (Boeing 737-800), operating as flight # BW523, en route from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Georgetown, Guyana was involved in an “incident” upon landing at the Timehri airport.

“Caribbean Airlines immediately activated its emergency response programme and is in direct contact with the relevant authorities. The airline’s primary concern at this time is for those on board the aircraft and their families.

Emergency response teams at CJIA were activated at the Airport and all passengers and crew have been evacuated. There were 157-Passengers and 6-Crew on-board. Up to press time, this is the update that we have:

• There have been no fatalities.

• Passengers are still receiving medical attention and we are working closely with the local medical services available in Guyana.”

Ava Hammond sent this photo to the BBC
Ava Hammond sent this photo to the BBC

It said that the perimeter around the aircraft has been secured and is being guarded by the Guyana Defence Force and the Police.

“We would like to reiterate that Caribbean Airlines Teams have been positioned to deal with the affected passengers. A management team consisting of:-Head of Corporate Communications, Vice President Operations, Executive Manager Flight Operations/Chief Pilot, Vice President Maintenance & Engineering, Executive Manager In-flight Services and Executive Manager Quality and Air Safety has departed for Guyana. Our Acting CEO in line with procedures is at our EMERGENCY COMMAND CENTRE co-ordinating operations and is in constant communications with the authorities in Guyana. Our primary concern will be to attend to those that were on board.”

It said that all enquiries should be directed to:-

Trinidad & Tobago:

United States: 1 800 786 3891

Canada: 1 800 380 6057

Caribbean: 1 800 744 6453

Caribbean Airlines at the press conference today said that the pilot of the aircraft has around 25 years of experience and has flown to Guyana several times.

Hospitals

The Ministry of Health this afternoon said that a total of 41 passengers were treated at two facilities: the Diamond Diagnostic Centre and the Georgetown Hospital.

“The Diamond Diagnostic Center treated 17 patients, of which 11 were referred to Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and 6 were sent home.

“Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation treated 35 patients.  Of these 3 were admitted, 1 with a broken leg and 2 women for further observations all the other passengers were treated and sent home.

We will continue to be alert throughout the coming days for passengers who may experience any pain or trauma”, a statement from the ministry said.

The flight BW 523 had departed from the JFK Airport and had stopped at the Piarco Airport prior to landing at the CJIA. The plane skidded off the runway as it attempted to land, this newspaper was told.

The plane broken in two (photo courtesy of Gordon Moseley)
The plane broken in two (photo courtesy of Gordon Moseley)

One passenger in the plane, Alain Scott told Stabroek News that the incident happened at about 1:30 this morning.  Scott, who was seated towards the front of the plane, recounted that it was raining at the time.

“When it landed, I thought it was a jungle,” he said. He said the plane crashed through a fence and broke.  He recounted that there was massive confusion in the plane as the cockpit caved in.  “Everybody was trying to get off in case there was a fire,” he said. The flight was full, he recounted.

He said that given the situation before landing he expected the pilot to go back to Trinidad. He was among the first to exit the plane (he was a first class passenger), and could smell gas. The place was very bloody and apparently the cabin collapsed causing the luggage to fall on people as well, he said. The airline didn’t say anything to them.

Plane split in half

A terrified Geeta Ramsingh who travelled from the JFK Airport noted that the entire incident left her terrified and that she wasn’t sure whether she will return to the USA in a month’s time as she planned initially. She told Stabroek News that she was sitting close to the entrance to the first class section of the aircraft when the incident occurred. She said the aircraft was already on the ground when she felt a sudden impact and the plane split in half before her eyes.

The woman said she found most bizarre that the taxi driver demanded US$20 to get from the scene to the terminal as persons scampered from the scene.

Nikita Allen, 17, told Stabroek News that she doesn’t know what happened. All she knows is that the plane landed, she felt a jerk, then it crashed. She is at the Georgetown Hospital being kept for observation. The plane left New York at 5 pm yesterday. There were around 170 passengers and crew on the plane.   An ill-judged approach by the plane at the south western end of the airport is believed to have caused it leave the runway and crash through the fence.

President Bharrat Jagdeo is at the airport. He met with the Civil Aviation heads and Works Minister Robeson Benn. The President later told reporters that the authorities hope to have the airport back in operation by 10 am today.  He said there was a Delta flight that was due at Timehri at 6 am and it has been rerouted to  Trinidad. He said the authorities were trying to have all passengers leave as soon as possible. Local investigators are on the scene and have contacted the US National Transportation and Safety Board on the incident.

Personnel from the Guyana Fire Service, Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force are on the scene tackling the situation which is currently very chaotic.

Meanwhile, the gates of the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) have been locked, according to a SN reporter on the scene.  Guards not allowing people to go in. The reporter was told that several persons connected to the incident were taken there and more are expected. The persons currently there are not in a serious condition. Another four passengers arrived in wheelchairs at around 4.30 am. Another ambulance arrived around 5 am. Four persons were  in wheelchairs and one was walking.

Last year April, a modern airport rescue and fire fighting vehicle was handed over to the Timehri Fire Station to boost its capacity to tackle aircraft fires and other emergencies at the Airport.  The Rosenbauer Panther 6×6 Crash Tender, which was acquired at a cost of $177M, complemented two others which are about 16 years old and are only able to achieve approximately 40% of their efficiency.

Caribbean Airlines began as British West Indian Airlines in 1940. (More later)

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