Passenger jet slides into Chicago street

Investigators studied the crash scene on Friday after a passenger jet trying to land amid heavy snow plowed off a Midway International airport runway and into a Chicago street, killing a six-year-old boy in a car.

Ten other people, most of them on the ground, were injured in the Thursday-evening accident, the first fatal crash in Southwest Airlines’ 35-year history, authorities said. The airport reopened on Friday after being closed overnight.

Flight data and cockpit voice recorders were removed from the plane and sent to Washington for analysis, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Ellen Engleman Conners said, adding that the investigation should take at least a year.

Flight 1248 from Baltimore with more than 100 people aboard touched down at about 7.15pm on Thursday. Though the airport had about 18cm of snow, aviation officials said conditions at the time were acceptable.

The plane went off the end of the runway and slammed through a fence before it struck two vehicles, pinning one beneath it.
The boy who died, one of five people in the pinned car, was identified as Joshua Woods.

Mahdi Abdelqader, a tow-truck driver who witnessed the crash and rushed to the scene, said on Friday that the people in the car were screaming for help.

“I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to help them, but at the same time I was scared because I thought at any moment the plane could go up in flames,” said Abdelqader.

Passenger Mike Abate (35), of suburban Milwaukee, said that from within the plane, he could see that a man was carrying an injured child and other people were taken away in an ambulance.

“We were safe on the plane,” Abate said. “The toughest part was to realise that someone was under the belly of the plane.”

Southwest officials have been in contact with Joshua’s family, airline spokesperson Ed Stewart said.

The Boeing 737, nose resting on the ground, and the vehicles remained in the street on Friday morning as NTSB investigators began their work on scene.

In a briefing, Conners stressed that a variety of factors need to be looked at before any cause is determined.

“Often, the first guess is not correct,” Conners said. “So, we’re not going to guess. We’re going to focus on facts and science and data.”

Among other things, routine toxicology tests on the pilots are planned, she said.

Five crew and 98 passengers were aboard the plane, authorities said. Most were evacuated through the plane’s inflatable slides in blowing snow, while others used stairs at the rear of the plane, said Chicago Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford.

The airport, surrounded by homes and businesses, has shorter runways than most major airports, because it was originally built to handle smaller propeller planes. The larger ones land at O’Hare International airport.

Two people remained hospitalised by midmorning on Friday, including one of the people in the car with Joshua. That person’s condition was withheld at the request of family, Advocate Christ medical centre said. A second person, in the other car that was hit, was in good condition at Holy Cross hospital. Two passengers on the plane and six other people in the two cars were treated and released.

In February, a corporate jet skidded off a runway while taking off at Teterboro, New Jersey, crossing a highway and slamming into a warehouse. No one was killed, but a passenger in a car that was struck was critically injured.

A transportation measure signed recently by President George Bush will require hundreds of airports to improve the safety margin at the end of runways by 2015.

The Midway accident happened 33 years to the day after a crash of a plane approaching the airport killed 45 people, two of them on the ground. Eighteen other passengers survived. Among the dead were Dorothy Hunt, the wife of Watergate figure E Howard Hunt, and CBS newswoman Michele Clark.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report

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