The crash landing of a Boeing 737 in the Caribbean is being called a "miracle" by the region's governor. The jetliner broke into three parts on the runway, but remarkably all but one person survived the crash of an aircraft known for its improved design and relatively clean safety record.
The Boeing 737-700, carrying 127 passengers, crashed while landing at Colombia's San Andres island during a thunderstorm, killing one person on board. Local police say the lone fatality was a 73-year-old woman who reportedly died of a heart attack moments after the crash.
The Colombian Air Force was investigating reports Aires flight 8250 from Bogota to San Andres was struck by lightning before crashing at the San Andres airport. Of the 121 passengers and 6 crew members on board, 66 were injured and 34 were hospitalized. The Colombian Civil Aviation Authority reports 5 Americans were among the passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board says it will send investigators to Colombia to assist with the investigation.
"It was a miracle and we have to give thanks to God," that only one person died, said Gov. Pedro Gallardo.
Officials said 119 people were treated or checked at local clinics and five of them were seriously injured.
"It was going down pretty fast when it hit the ground," said William Voss of the Flight Safety Foundation in an interview with ABC News. "it's very hard to break an aircraft into pieces like that."
Survivors of the crash in Colombia said everything seemed normal as the pilot announced they were landing. But suddenly, the aircraft hit short of the runway and slid on its belly as the fuselage broke apart. One Colombian official credited the pilot with keeping the plane from crashing into the airport terminal.
The state government said in an e-mail that passengers aboard the plane that left Bogota about midnight included eight U.S. citizens and four Brazilians. Later, airline representative Erika Zarate said only five U.S. citizens were aboard, as well as two Germans, two Costa Ricans and two French citizens. They were not identified.
Passenger Ricardo Ramirez, a vacationing civil engineer, told Caracol Radio that all had seemed normal, even though the plane was flying through a storm, with flashes of lightning, as it neared the airport.
"The plane was going perfectly, we practically going to land, everything was under control," he said. The accident "appeared out of nowhere."
The plane slid forward on its belly as the fuselage fractured and bits of landing gear and at least one engine were ripped off.
"When we fell, we wound up on the pavement still in the seats, said Ramirez, who struggled to free himself and his wife from their safety belts.
"We tried to get out of the plane because the plane was starting to shoot flames," he said. "In a few minutes, a police patrol arrived and helped us."
Caracol Radio quoted Transport Minister German Cardona as saying the accident was caused by weather and not by technical failure. The plane, he said, had undergone standard maintenance checks eight days ago.
This is only the second time a 737-700 has been involved in an accident in which people died, according to the website AirSafe.com.
The previous accident took place on December 8, 2005, when the crew of a Southwest Airlines flight landing at Chicago's Midway Airport from Baltimore was unable to stop the aircraft on the runway. The aircraft struck a fence and two vehicles on the ground, killing a 6-year-old boy, but none of the 95 passengers on board was seriously injured.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.