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Firefighter: 'Miracle' no deaths in burning jet

December 21, 2008 12:57:13 PM PST
Firefighters said Sunday it was a miracle that no one was killed when an airliner veered sharply off a runway during takeoff, burst into flames and nearly broke apart. There was no official word on the possible cause of the crash of Continental Flight 1404 at Denver International Airport. Federal aviation investigators arrived at the airport Sunday afternoon.

The entire right side of the Boeing 737 was burned in the Saturday evening accident and melted plastic from overhead compartments dripped onto the seats.

"It was a miracle ... that everybody survived the impact and the fire," said Bill Davis, an assistant Denver fire chief assigned to the airport. "It was just amazing."

A crack encircled much of the fuselage near the trailing edge of the wings, and the left engine had broken loose and come to a rest about 30 feet away, Davis said.

Davis, one of the firefighters who rushed to the scene, said the plane came to a rest about 200 yards from one of the airport's four fire stations. He said passengers walked out of the ravine in 24-degree cold and crowded inside the station.

The 110 passengers and five crew members left the plane on emergency slides, officials said.

Passenger Emily Pellegrini said that as the plane headed down the runway, "It was bumpy, then it was bumpier, then it wasn't bumpy."

She told The Denver Post she wasn't sure the plane ever lifted off before veering hard to the right.

Thirty-eight people suffered injuries including broken bones. Two people were initially listed in critical condition at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver but were upgraded Sunday, one to serious and one to fair, spokeswoman Tonya Ewers said.

Continental Airlines spokeswoman Julie King said fewer than seven people were still in the hospital Sunday morning. She declined to comment on the types of injuries.

Five of the six airport's six runways were reopened Sunday morning and airport officials didn't expect any delays related to airport operations, said airport spokesman Jeff Green.

The weather was cold but not snowy when the plane took off on a flight to Houston around 6:20 p.m. Saturday.

The plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and did not appear to have gotten airborne, city aviation manager Kim Day said. Debris was scattered on the runway about 200 yards from the wrecked plane.

The plane came to a rest in a shallow, snow-covered ravine between runways. Flat land is rare on the plains abutting the Rocky Mountains near Denver, and the airport was built on gently rolling country. The runways are elevated so rain and snow will drain away.

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On the Net:

Denver Airport: http://www.flydenver.com/

Mike Wilson: http://twitter.com/2drinksbehind


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