Thursday October 17, 2019
Home Lead Story Military-Char...

Military-Chartered Jet Carrying 143 People Comes To A Crashing Halt in A River

The plane had been expected to return to Cuba on Saturday to carry other members of the military, lawyers and others to Andrews after this week’s military commission hearings of people charged with war crimes.

0
//
Plane
A Boeing 737 arriving, May 3, 2019, at Naval Air Station Jacksonville from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with 136 passengers and seven aircrew slid off the runway Friday night into the St. Johns River, a NAS Jacksonville news release said. VOA

A military-chartered jet carrying 143 people landed hard, then bounced and swerved as the pilot struggled to control it amid thunder and lightning, ultimately skidding off the runway and coming to a crashing halt in a river at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

It meant chaos and terror for passengers in the Boeing 737 as the plane jolted back and forth and oxygen masks deployed, then overhead bins opened, sending contents spilling out.

But authorities said all the people onboard emerged without critical injuries Friday night, lining up on the wings as they waited to be rescued. A 3-month-old baby was the only one hospitalized, and that was done out of an abundance of caution, officials said.

“I think it is a miracle,” said Capt. Michael Connor, the base’s commanding officer, hours after the plane landed. “We could be talking about a different story this evening.”

Base Commander Captain Mike Connor, commanding officer NAS Jacksonville and NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg, right, speak about a plane crash, May 3, 2019, at a news briefing at the front gate of Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday.
Base Commander Captain Mike Connor, commanding officer NAS Jacksonville and NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg, right, speak about a plane crash, May 3, 2019, at a news briefing at the front gate of Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday. VOA

NTSB investigating

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators Saturday to the crash site in the St. Johns River in north Florida, where the aircraft was still partially submerged in shallow water and its nose cone was sliced off, apparently from the impact. Two pet cats and a dog were still on the plane as well, and their status wasn’t immediately clear.

Rescuers looked in the cargo area after the plane ended up in the river but saw no crates and heard no animal noises. When they returned later, they didn’t see any pet carriers above water, Connor said.

Members of the 16-person NTSB team recovered the plane’s flight data recorder Saturday.

Investigators will examine the aircraft, the environment and human factors in trying to discover why the plane rolled into the river. The pavement on the runway wasn’t grooved, and Landsberg said grooves can help the water flow off the pavement more quickly. He said investigators will examine what role that may have, with reported heavy rain during the landing.

The flight took off Friday from the U.S. military base in Cuba with 136 passengers and seven crew members. It was a regular charter run by Miami Air International, which has many military contracts, including weekly flights between the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Jacksonville air station as well as Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.

The aircraft had no history of accidents, said NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsberg.

A charter plane carrying 143 people and traveling from Cuba to north Florida sits in a river at the end of a runway, May 4, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla.
A charter plane carrying 143 people and traveling from Cuba to north Florida sits in a river at the end of a runway, May 4, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. VOA

Plane ‘hit the ground and then it bounced’

Among those onboard was Cheryl Bormann, a defense attorney, who described the chaotic landing.

The plane “literally hit the ground and then it bounced. It was clear that the pilot did not have complete control of the plane because it bounced some more, it swerved and tilted left and right,” she told CNN. “The pilot was trying to control it but couldn’t, and then all of a sudden it smashed into something.”

Bormann said people weren’t screaming because the flight staff worked quickly to give direction. Everyone onboard helped one another to put on their life vests and then evacuated to safety.

A veteran death penalty attorney from Chicago, Bormann has been defending Walid bin Attash, who is charged with helping to train some of the 9/11 hijackers. The U.S. holds 40 men at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. It has been prosecuting some of them by military commissions, including five charged with planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their cases have been in the pretrial stage since May 2012 and no trial has been scheduled.

Passengers military, families, civilians

Authorities say everyone onboard the flight was alive and accounted for, but nearly two dozen people sought medical attention.

The passengers were a mix of military personnel and families, and a few civilians. While some were staying in the area, others planned to fly on to other parts of the country, Connor said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what went wrong. Boeing said in a tweet Friday night that it was investigating: “We are aware of an incident in Jacksonville, Fla., and are gathering information.”

Connor said he didn’t know what impact the weather had on the flight. “I was at home when this happened and there were thunderstorms and lightning,” he said.

The plane had been expected to return to Cuba on Saturday to carry other members of the military, lawyers and others to Andrews after this week’s military commission hearings of people charged with war crimes.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take to remove the plane from the river.

“We have challenges because bottom half of fuselage is covered with water,” Landsberg said.

Also Read: Southeast Asian Governments ‘Celebrate’ World Press Freedom Day

Connor said the landing gear appeared to be resting on the riverbed, making it unlikely for the aircraft to float away. He said crews began working to contain any jet fuel leaks almost immediately after securing the passengers’ safety.

Fuel leak contained

The smell of fuel and oil was pungent as AP journalists went by boat for a closer look. The bottom of the plane was under water, making it difficult to access the cargo hold.

“We’re obviously very concerned about the environment and we’re doing everything we can to contain it,” Connor said about the fuel. “Once we were assured that personnel were safe, our next priority effort was to … contain any type of fuel.” (VOA)

Next Story

Sees Passenger Flights By 2025 On Tiny Electric Plane: Norway

Norway tops the world league for per capita sales of electric cars

0
People watch a test flight of a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
People watch a test flight of a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA

Norway tested a two-seater electric plane on Monday and predicted a start to passenger flights by 2025 if new aviation technologies match a green shift that has made Norwegians the world’s top buyers of electric cars.

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and Dag Falk-Petersen, head of state-run Avinor which runs most of Norway’s airports, took a few minutes’ flight around Oslo airport in an Alpha Electro G2 plane, built by Pipistrel in Slovenia.

“This is … a first example that we are moving fast forward” towards greener aviation, Solvik-Olsen told Reuters. “We do have to make sure it is safe – people won’t fly if they don’t trust it.”

He said plane makers such as Boeing and Airbus were developing electric aircraft and that battery prices were tumbling, making it feasible to reach a government goal of making all domestic flights in Norway electric by 2040.

Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and head of the Avinor Dag Falk-Petersen stand next to a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian company Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and head of the Avinor Dag Falk-Petersen stand next to a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian company Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA

Asked when passenger flights in electric planes could start, Falk-Petersen, the pilot, said: “My best guess is before 2025 … It should all be electrified by 2040.”

The two said the plane, with a takeoff weight of 570 kg (1255 lb), was cramped and buffeted by winds but far quieter than a conventional plane run on fossil fuels.

Norway tops the world league for per capita sales of electric cars such as Teslas, Nissan Leafs or Volkswagen Golfs, backed by incentives such as big tax breaks, free parking and exemptions from road tolls.

In May 2018, 56 percent of all cars sold in Norway were either pure electric or hybrids against 46 percent in the same month of 2017, according to official statistics.

Norway, a mountainous country of five million people where fjords and remote islands mean many short-hop routes of less than 200 kms, would be ideal for electric planes, Solvik-Olsen said. Also, 98 percent of electricity in Norway is generated from clean hydro power.

Some opposition politicians said the government needed to do far more to meet green commitments in the 200-nation Paris climate agreement.

A two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel stands outside a hangar before a test flight at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
A two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel stands outside a hangar before a test flight at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA

“This is a start … but we have to make jet fuel a lot more expensive,” said Arild Hermstad, a leader of the Green Party.

The first electric planes flew across the English Channel in July 2015, including an Airbus E-Fan. French aviator Louis Bleriot who was first to fly across the Channel, in 1909, in a fossil-fuel powered plane.

Electric planes so far have big problems of weight, with bulky batteries and limited ranges. Both Falk-Petersen and Solvik-Olsen said they had been on strict diets before the flight.

Also read: Norway Emerges Leader, Having World’s Fastest Mobile Internet

“My wife is happy about it,” Solvik-Olsen said. (VOA)