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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK

World: Europe

Plane crash Britons due home

Many passengers thought they were going to die

Exhausted British tourists are due to fly back home, after an 'amazing' escape when their plane crash-landed in a heavy storm.

Britannia Airways was operating a special flight on Thursday to bring back to the UK any traumatised passengers who no longer wished to continue their holiday.

The BBC's Simon Montague: "It must have been a terrifying experience"
The accident happened on Tuesday night, when a Boeing 757 from Cardiff, operated by Britannia, skidded and crashed on the runway as it landed in a storm at Gerona airport on the Spanish Costa Brava.

Passengers spoke of screaming and panic on board as the plane broke up. Many believed they were going to die.

[ image: 40 people needed hospital treatment]
40 people needed hospital treatment
However, of the 245 Thomson Holidays passengers and crew on board, only 40 needed hospital treatment, and just one remained in hospital on Thursday morning.

Retired steel worker David Dennis, 72, from Swansea, said: "It was amazing that no one was killed.

"It was like someone throwing a pebble across a lake. We just skimmed along the runway."

Spanish authorities criticised

But passengers did criticise the Spanish authorities for the way they dealt with the aftermath of the accident.

William Tams, passenger: "We felt a large bump"
The passengers said they had to wait over an hour for emergency services to arrive.

Some said they were left to make their own way to the airport terminal building in torrential rain, others said there seemed to be confusion in the airport terminal over where the plane had landed.

[ image: The authorities said emergency aid was not really needed]
The authorities said emergency aid was not really needed
But in a statement the Spanish airport authorities praised what they called the quick response of the rescue teams.

They said emergency assistance was not really needed as the majority of passengers had only slight injuries.

Investigation under way

An investigation is under way into the crash, which left the plane broken in three pieces by the side of the runway.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler: ''A full investigation is underway''
The incident began after flight BY226A prepared to land after flying from Cardiff airport at 8.40pm on Tuesday, with 236 Thomson Holidays' holidaymakers and nine crew.

The plane appeared to go out of control as it touched down just before midnight.

A Gerona airport spokesman said the drama happened at the height of a thunderstorm and on the pilot's second attempt at landing.

Initial reports suggested heavy rains prevented the pilot from bringing the plane to a stop on the runway and forced him to skid off on to the surrounding grass area.

But the spokesman, who said the passengers had "a lucky escape", also suggested the pilot may have been momentarily blinded by lightning.

Diversion speculation

Britannia Airways has confirmed the pilot of the aircraft was 55-year-old Brendan Nolan.

[ image: The accident happened at about midnight]
The accident happened at about midnight
But a spokeswoman refused to comment on reports that moments prior to landing, Mr Nolan was directed by Spanish air traffic controllers to divert to Barcelona, 60 miles away.

She said: "The investigation into what occurred is still being carried out. We will not be making any more statements until that inquiry is completed."

British air investigators are flying to Spain to take part in the probe into the incident.

Tour operator Thomson Holidays has also sent out a team of reps and counsellors to help the passengers.

The passengers were put up in and around Gerona on Wednesday night and were expected to arrive back in Cardiff on Thursday at about 6pm on Thursday.

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