/ 21 August 2008

World saddened by Spain air disaster

Messages of support and sympathy flooded into Spain after the country’s worst air accident in decades killed 153 people on Wednesday.

”It is with deep sadness that I learnt that there had been an air accident at the airport in Madrid which ended with so many victims,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a message to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero after Wednesday’s disaster.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano expressed his condolences in a message to Spanish King Juan Carlos.

”At this sad moment, Italy, united with your country by traditional bonds of friendship, feels particularly close to the Spanish people,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to be shocked by the number of dead and injured, according to spokesperson Thomas Steg.

The chancellor shares the pain of the families who have lost loved ones, he said, adding that she, too, had sent a message of sympathy to Zapatero.

Investigators on Thursday sought to determine what caused the jet to break up in flames as it took off from Madrid’s airport.

One engine of the Spanair MD-82 caught fire during the attempted take-off from Madrid-Barajas airport on a flight to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands at 12.45pm GMT on Wednesday, Spanish media said, quoting witnesses.

The unstable aircraft then veered off the right of the runway, before breaking up, with fire spreading rapidly through the fuselage.

Transport Minister Magdalena Alvarez said 153 people were killed and 19 injured, two of whom remain unidentified.

There were 162 passengers on board along with 10 crew members, four of whom were travelling as passengers. Twenty-two children were among the passengers, two of them infants.

Alvarez said the MD-82 had just taken off, but it was not clear if the back wheels had left the ground.

She said the plane had earlier begun taxiing to the runway, before turning back because of an undisclosed technical problem, which caused a one-hour delay in the takeoff.

The two black boxes were found and were to be analysed.

Some experts said the fire in the engine was not enough to explain the accident, and other causes may be to blame. The plane should have veered to left if there was a loss of power in the left engine.

Spanish media said the pilot had earlier signalled a malfunction in an exterior temperature gauge, which was fixed before take-off.

The 15-year-old plane was bought from Korean Air nine years ago, and was overhauled early this year, Spanair said.

Spanair, Spain’s second largest airline after Iberia, released the list of passengers late on Wednesday, but not their nationalities. However, Spanish media said four Germans, two Swedes, a Chilean and a Colombian were among the survivors.

Thoughts and prayers
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had learned of the ”terrible” accident ”with great sadness”, adding that his thoughts were with the injured and victims’ families.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the prime minister was ”deeply sorry to hear about today’s [Wednesday] tragedy in Spain”.

”His thoughts are with the Spanish people and all those affected by the tragedy.”

Queen Elizabeth II said she was ”shocked” and ”saddened” in a message to King Juan Carlos.

”Philip joins me in sending our warm and heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those who have died and our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured,” the British monarch added, referring to her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

”At this difficult time all those affected by this tragedy are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Latin American governments sent Spain condolences and offers of assistance after the tragedy.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taina phoned his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, ”to convey the profound sadness of the Argentine government and people” and extend Argentina’s help in the tragedy, a ministry statement said.

Colombia extended to Spain’s government and people ”the most sincere condolences and wishes for the prompt recovery of all those who have been injured” in the crash, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez sent a personal message to Spain.

”At this terrible time, all Venezuelans extend our feelings of solidarity and brotherhood to the families and friends of the victims of such a horrible accident,” he said in a statement. — AFP