A commercial airliner bound for the Canary Islands with at least 173 people aboard crashed during takeoff today at Madrid's ultramodern Barajas airport, exploding in flames and killing most people on board.
The Madrid regional government confirmed at least 100 people were dead, and rescue workers who spent the afternoon dragging bodies from the wreckage said there were slightly fewer than 30 survivors.
The Spanair flight headed for Las Palmas, a popular summer vacation spot on one of the largest of the Canary archipelago off West Africa, crashed around 2:45 p.m. on a clear, hot day. Many of those on board were families, some with small children, destined for late-August holidays.
There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash but investigators were focusing on reports of a fire in one of the jet's engines.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero interrupted his vacation and went into an emergency government session to assess the tragedy. Although Spain is plagued by domestic and international terrorism, there was no early indication that the flight was attacked.
The plane, a McDonnell-Douglas MD-82, was taking off after an hour delay caused by technical problems, El Pais newspaper reported. Other reports said the plane was making its second attempt at a takeoff.
Plumes of gray and white smoke rose from a field on one side of the sprawling airport as rescue and firefighting vehicles rushed, one after another, to the site. It took firefighters about two hours to extinguish the flames.
"We are dealing with a lot of casualties," Pilar Rodriguez, spokeswoman for Spanish emergency services, told journalists.
Madrid's Barajas airport has a long, clean safety record.
On March 27, 1977, the Canary Islands was the scene of one of history's worst accidents: an on-the-ground collision of two jumbo jets in which 585 people were killed.