The pilot of an SAS passenger jet said it was a Christmastime miracle no one was killed when he crash-landed the crippled aircraft in a snowy field Friday. "I think I had a little help," he said.
Forty-two of the 129 people aboard the twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-80 were injured, several seriously, but all survived, said Peter Forssman, head of SAS operations in Sweden.
The aircraft, bound for Copenhagen, Denmark and Warsaw with 123 passengers and six crew members, crashed three minutes after takeoff from Stockholm's Arlanda Airport, 28 miles north of the city, after the pilot reported trouble with both engines.
The pilot, 14-year veteran Stefan Rasmussen, said that once he realized he had lost power, he had only seconds to scan the forest and farmland for a clear place to land.
He told reporters he tried to glide as far as possible, clipping treetops to slow the plane down. One minute before impact, still traveling at 150 m.p.h., he alerted the passengers and crew to brace themselves.
"I did what I learned and I used all my skill, and I think I had a little help because it was Christmas," said Rasmussen, who suffered neck and head injuries.
The aircraft skidded across a frozen meadow, split into three pieces and ground to a halt just short of a forest. The right wing landed in the woods, the fuselage broke open and seats spilled out. But the plane did not catch fire.
"I am very happy that we managed to land" without deaths, said Rasmussen. "I have talked to my family, and I think I'll start a new life today."
Prime Minister Carl Bildt interrupted a vacation in southern Sweden to fly to the crash scene. "It seems to be a miracle that everything went so well," he said.
Rasmussen reported trouble with both engines shortly after taking off into thick clouds. The national news agency TT said that, when he was unable to start them, he told the control tower: "I'm going to crash."
The news agency said Rasmussen also reported ice on the plane's wings. But Rasmussen denied that, saying, "The plane was definitely de-iced. I got the information from my mechanics that it was done."
SAS officials said the flight was delayed 18 minutes to spray the anti-icing liquid on the plane.
Rasmussen's description of gliding the plane also indicated he had lost power in both engines, although SAS officials said that would be very unusual.
"The way he set down the aircraft indicates the pilot was actually flying the aircraft to the end, not gliding," said John Tulin, chief of SAS flight operations in Stockholm.
Although the cause of the crash has not been determined, the airline praised Rasmussen for his skill in picking a landing site. "The captain did a tremendous job . . . because he apparently managed to fly it to a reasonably good emergency landing site and near roads," said Tulin.
"The plane dropped slowly," passenger Goran Argas recounted. "First it touched the top of the trees and then it came down in a field. It stopped fast."
Firefighter Per-Anders Berthlin, who arrived 15 minutes after the crash, said passengers who were not badly injured helped the more seriously injured out of the plane.
SAS said it acquired the aircraft in April. The company has 58 MD-80 jetliners and has used them since 1985. About 2,000 of the planes are in service worldwide.