Federal accident investigators have recovered badly burned flight recorders and started interviewing people who were on board a jet that ran off a Texas runway during takeoff and burst into flames.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that it expects to spend one to two weeks gathering evidence of the accident at Houston Executive Airport in Brookshire, Texas.
Safety board member Michael Graham said investigators will look at the engines, maintenance records, performance of the pilots and other issues. The board expects to take 12 to 18 months to issue a final report and determine the cause of Tuesday's accident.
Of keen interest: How all 21 people on board the McDonnell Douglas MD-87 escaped the fiery wreck, with only two of them suffering what Graham called minor injuries.
“It is a big deal that we had no fatalities, and we want to know why so if something like this happens again, we hopefully have the recommendations in place to prevent it from being a fatality accident,” Graham told reporters.
The passengers were headed to Boston to attend an American League Championship Series game between the Houston Astros and the Red Sox, according to the plane's owner, J. Alan Kent, who was on board.
Passenger Cheryl McCaskill, of the Houston suburb of Cypress, told the Houston Chronicle that when the plane finally stopped, “Everyone went, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!’ We jumped out on that inflatable thing and then everyone went, ’Get away!”
The “black boxes” — recorders that measure the plane's performance and capture cockpit conversations — were on their way to the NTSB lab in Washington for analysis. At the crash site, investigators were going over the debris field and examining the engines.
Graham said most of the plane's fuselage burned to the ground, while the tail section and engines were intact. He declined to speculate on why the plane couldn't stop sooner.
There were 18 passengers, two pilots and a flight mechanic on board. It was not an airline or charter operation, so no flight attendant was required. The plane was registered to a Houston-area investment firm called 987 Investments LLC.
According to state records, the plane's owner is Kent, the president and CEO of Flair Builders, a custom homebuilder that develops large-scale residential communities. The company said in a statement that it was grateful everyone survived and that it is cooperating with investigators.