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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK
Passengers survive plane inferno
The Air France jet on fire at Pearson. Photo: Ginger Fillion

An Air France plane has skidded off a runway and burst into flames at Toronto's Pearson airport, but all 309 people aboard survived, officials say.

Flight 358 from Paris burned for more than two hours after the crash landing in bad weather at 1603 (2003 GMT).

"We were really, really scared the plane would blow up," passenger Olivier Dubois told a Canadian TV station.

The accident was the first major crash of an Airbus A340-300 since the model's first flight in October 1991.

The accident took place in heavy rain near Highway 401, one of Canada's busiest motorways, and emergency vehicles raced to the scene.

Some 24 people aboard the plane were treated for minor injuries, officials said.

Roel Bramar, a passenger on the plane, told Canada's CBC broadcaster that there was mayhem aboard the airliner after the impact.

"I was at the very end, and second off the plane. I was just running like crazy. There was quite a bit of fire on the ground."

Several witnesses said they thought the plane had been struck by lightning as the power went out just before the plane landed.

First accident

The plane crashed through barriers and fell into a small ravine, tail in the air.

It overshot the runway by some 200m (660ft), Steve Shaw of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority told reporters at a hastily organised news conference.

Mr Shaw said it appeared that all the passengers were evacuated before the plane was "heavily damaged by fire".

One witness said rescue workers got to the airliner within 50 seconds.

Mr Shaw said the airport had been under a "red alert" since midday Tuesday because of danger of lightning.

"There was quite a downpour," CBC journalist John Finday said.

"The visibility was really bad, with lots of lightning."

The A340 has an excellent safety record - with no crashes reported before Tuesday, aircraft expert David Learmount told the BBC.

"Modern airliners are like that. They don't have accidents. If this one has had an accident it's the first."

Mayhem

Mr Dubois told CTV that the plane "was going pretty fast" just before the landing.

He said suddenly "it was all black in the plane, there was no more light".

"And then we went off the runway, we were in the ravine and the plane was continuing rolling on the ravine and then there were a lot of flames.

"The plane stopped. We opened the emergency doors and basically there were lots of flames around.

"We were really, really scared that the plane would blow up... We just tried to escape, sliding from the plane and running in the countryside," Mr Dubois said.


Diagram of Airbus A340-300




SEE ALSO:
'We thought the plane would blow'
02 Aug 05 |  Americas
Air disasters timeline
05 Feb 05 |  In Depth
Seven die in Canada plane crash
14 Oct 04 |  Americas


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