Jet breaks in half in Guyana crash landing

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, July 31, 2011 (AFP) - A Caribbean Airlines jetliner carrying 157 people broke in half when it crashed landed in heavy rain and fog here Saturday, but no fatalities were reported, officials said.

"It's an absolute miracle that took place today," Caribbean Airlines chairman George Nicholas told a news briefing at Cheddi Jagan International Airport.

The Caribbean Airlines flight that originated in New York apparently touched down in the middle of the runway at that airport, then ran off the strip, crashed through a fence and finally stopped on a grassy slope near a road.

The front section of the fuselage broke in the landing, briefly trapping passengers in the first class seats. But none of the 151 passengers and six crew members on the Boeing 737-800 jet were seriously injured, the airline said. All have been evacuated.

Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy told AFP that one person suffered a broken leg and several others sustained minor bruises.

"It's amazing to have an aircraft in that shape with a small number of injuries," Nicholas said.

The plane crashed at 01:32 am (0532 GMT), and airport emergency crews worked in the dark for the first few hours as they rescued several passengers from the wrecked plane.

The head of the Trinidad and Tobago state-owned airline said the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority would be spearheading the probe in collaboration with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

NTSB investigators are due in Guyana on Monday to assist with removing the plane's critical blackbox -- or flight data record -- and data voice recorder.

President Bharrat Jagdeo rushed to the airport along with several high-ranking officials, including the transportation minister, NCN television reported.

Airline officials declined to provide details on the case, including the weather at the time of the incident. They said the pilot has 25 years experience, including flights to Guyana.

The broken aircraft has been barricaded and under guard by police and soldiers at the semi-forested and sandy area, while Guyana officials closed the airport for nearly 10 hours, the airline said. Hundreds of passengers were stranded waiting for flights.

Nicholas said baggage is being retrieved and would be made available shortly.

Passengers who escaped the plane told Guyana's WRHM Capitol News television that the cabin was filled with smoke.

"Everybody was screaming like crazy," a passenger from New York told Capitol News. "A guy jumped out and broke his foot. A lot of kids got injured."

The passenger was sitting in the rear of the plane and escaped with only minor injuries.

A post-trauma team, including psychologists, is expected to assist with counseling passengers and crew.

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