An Air Canada plane made a hard landing in bad weather early Sunday and skidded off the runway at the airport in Halifax, Canada. The airline said 25 people were taken to hospitals for observation and treatment of minor injuries.
"This was not a hard landing. This was an actual crash," said Mike Magnus, a 60-year-old businessman who was sitting in the first row. "It was the closest I've ever come to death. There is no doubt in my mind."
Magnus added that the snow covering the runway probably extinguished any sparks that might have caused the plane to catch fire.
The airline said Flight 624, an Airbus 320 that left Toronto late Saturday, had 133 passengers and five crew members. Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said the aircraft touched down in stormy conditions at 12:35 a.m. Sunday.
"It came down pretty hard and then skidded off the runway," Spurway said. He said he didn't know whether runway conditions played a role.
Canada's Transportation Safety Board provided pictures that showed significant damage to the plane with the nose torn off and what appears to be an engine crumpled under a damaged wing.
Passengers said they believe the aircraft hit a power line as it came in to land and described the plane skidding on its belly for some time before it came to a stop.
Power went off at the airport. Nova Scotia Power later tweeted that power had been restored, but didn't indicate what caused the outage. Cpl. Greg Church of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a power line south of the runway was damaged.
Passengers said they left the plane immediately but were left standing on the tarmac, some in their stocking feet, for more than an hour as they were lashed by wind-whipped snow before buses arrived.
"People were just happy to be alive but after a while it got tiresome having to wait outside in the freezing cold. I only had a golf shirt on," Magnus said.
Spurway said emergency responders were at the scene within 90 seconds, but their first priority was dealing with any fire threat. He said the power outage complicated efforts to get buses to the tarmac, but a tarp was provided.
Air Canada said only one person remained hospitalized at midday Sunday.
Randy Hall, who was returning home from a Mexican vacation with his wife, Lianne Clark, said he believes the jet hit a power line before landing hard on the runway. There were sparks but no fire, he said.
"We were just coming in to land and there was a big flash," said Hall. "The plane came down, bang! It jumped up in the air again."
The aircraft skidded for a long time before coming to a stop, said Hall, who is retired. "We were sliding along on our belly," he said.
Klaus Goersch, Air Canada's chief operating officer, said the weather was suitable for landing.
"It was safe to fly in this weather. The aircraft did circle for a period of time but when the approach was initiated, the weather was at the approach limits," Goersch told a news conference. "The weather was appropriate for landing."