Flight 331 skidded across a road at Norman Manley International Airport and halted at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, apparently prevented from going into the water only by the upward slope of the sand. The nose of the jet was less than 10 feet from the water.
Some 44 passengers were taken to nearby hospitals with broken bones and back pains, Information Minister Daryl Vaz told The Associated Press. Four people were seriously injured, said Paul Hall, senior vice president of airport operations.
The plane's fuselage was cracked, its right engine broke off from the impact and the left main landing gear collapsed, said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman at the company's headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises and none were life threatening, though he had no details, he said.
The Boeing 737-800, which originated at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., had taken off from Miami International Airport at 8:52 p.m. and arrived in Kingston at 10:22 p.m. It was carrying 148 passengers and a crew of six, American said. The majority of those aboard were Jamaicans coming home for Christmas, Vaz said.
Those getting off the plane were bleeding, mostly from the upper parts of their bodies.
Passenger Pilar Abaurrea described a chaotic scene when the plane hit the ground with a loud crash skidded along the runway.
"All of a sudden, when it hit the ground, the plane was kind of bouncing, someone said the plane was skidding and there was panic," Abaurrea of Keene, N.H., said in a telephone interview.
As the crew opened the emergency exits and people scrambled to get off, 62-year-old Abaurrea and her husband, Gary Wehrwein, noticed a number of people with injuries, including one person who had a cut on his head from falling baggage.
Abaurrea said she had pain in her neck and back from the impact and her husband had pain in a shoulder from falling luggage, but were otherwise unhurt. "I'm a little bit shook up but OK," she said.
Abaurrea said the flight was very turbulent, with the crew being forced to halt the beverage service three times before finally giving it up. Just before landing, the pilot warned of more turbulence but said it likely wouldn't be much worse than what they had experienced so far, she said.
Smith said it was too soon to provide details about the precise of the extent of the damage to the aircraft.
The airport has not reopened because of concerns that the plane's tail might be hindering visibility, Security Minister Dwight Nelson told Radio Jamaica.
Some 400 passengers were waiting for their flights to be cleared for takeoff, he said.
Associated Press Writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carol Druga in Atlanta and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.