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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK

World: Europe

Plane crash Britons' 'miracle' escape

Most emerged from the shattered plane shocked but unhurt

More than 200 British holidaymakers had a "miraculous" escape after their plane's fuselage was ripped apart in a crash-landing in Spain.

The BBC's Simon Montague reports: "It's thought water on the runway caused the crash"
The Boeing 757 skidded off the runway at Girona as it tried to land during a torrential rainstorm.

None of the 245 passengers and crew on the Britannia Airways flight from Cardiff was said to be seriously injured, though there were reports that a girl aged about six may have suffered serious leg injuries.

Passengers described how the Boeing 757 skimmed along the runway like a "pebble across a lake", breaking up and eventually coming to a halt in a muddy field.

William Tams, passenger: "We felt a large bump"
Retired steel worker David Dennis, 72, from Swansea, said: "It was amazing that no one was killed. How we all got out was a miracle."

"The monitor showed us at 4,000 feet, then 3,000 and then 2,000. Then we suddenly shot back up to 5,000ft.

"Then the pilot had another go. We touched down but then it was like someone throwing a pebble across a lake. We just skimmed along the runway."

Storms in the region have claimed at least five lives in north-east Spain in the last few days.

An investigation into the incident has begun, while two Britannia planes have flown to Spain to bring back any of those involved in the incident who want to come home.

The passengers will be put up in and around Girona on Wednesday night and are expected to arrive back in Cardiff on Thursday at about 6pm.

A spokeswoman for Thomson Holidays said 55 passengers suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital.

[ image: The incident was declared a full emergency]
The incident was declared a full emergency
Brian Perry, 59, a retired steel worker, from Caerphilly, said: "We ran as fast as we could away from the plane. There was a smell of fuel, but no fire.

"We are all talking about how good it feels to be alive. How nobody got killed I just don't know."

A Catalan fire service spokesman said the aircraft veered off the runway when the pilot braked.

Although the fuselage broke during the landing, the captain was able to steer the plane to safety and avoided potentially deadly fuel leaks.

The accident happened just after midnight local time (2315 BST on Tuesday).

Accident hotline

All those who were uninjured continued towards the Costa Brava, where most were staying on holiday.

[ image: The 757 is the workhorse of Britannia's holiday fleet]
The 757 is the workhorse of Britannia's holiday fleet
The Thomson spokeswoman said: "The mood is now calm but it is possible that the full impact of what they have gone through will hit them later.

"As a precaution we have a full team of staff on hand to provide support and answer any questions those involved may have."

She added that the pilot was one of the company's most experienced flyers.

The company has set up a telephone hotline for those wanting information about friends and family on 0845 6040171.

'Very dangerous'

A spokesman for Girona airport's traffic control said the passengers and crew of the Britannia flight had had "a lucky escape".

He said shortly before the aircraft tried to land, three other planes - one Dutch and two Italian - had been diverted to Girona from Barcelona where thunderstorms had made landing conditions "very dangerous".

"A few minutes after those three planes arrived, the storms closed in on Gerona. There was a lot of rain and lightning," he said.

"The Britannia Airways plane arrived and made a passing approach to assess the conditions. Under normal circumstances, if there is a problem about landing at Girona, aircraft will fly on to Barcelona.

Lightning may have been factor

"But the weather there was also very bad, so the Britannia Airways flight made a second approach, attempted to land and that was when it moved off the runway."

The spokesman said it was not clear whether the accident had been caused by excess water on the runway or whether the pilot had been temporarily blinded by lightning.

The incident was declared a full emergency with dozens of fire engines and ambulances called to the scene.

Last week another Britannia Boeing 757 caught fire in mid-air on a homeward bound flight from the Canary Islands.

In March 1997 three of the airline's 757s, carrying more than 700 passengers, were struck by lightning as they tried to land at Alicante airport in Spain.

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