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The Airbus A320 crashed into a bank of antennas at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport, shearing off its main landing gear, nose cone, and an engine as it skidded on its belly.
The airline said 25 people were taken to hospital for observation and treatment for minor injuries. All but one were later released.
Flight AC624, which left Toronto late on Saturday night local time, with 133 passengers and five crew members, landed in stormy conditions at 12.43am yesterday.
“They touched down 1,100 feet short of the runway so I’d say they’re pretty lucky,” Mike Cunningham, a regional manager for Canada’s Transport Safety Board, said.
Mr Cunningham said the plane hit an antenna array, shearing the main landing gear off before sliding on its belly on to the runway for another 1,100 feet before coming to a stop. There was significant damage to the plane and he could not rule out weather as a factor, he said.
He also said he believes a power line was severed, which led to a loss of power at the airport.
“All of us at Air Canada are greatly relieved that there have been no critical injuries as a result of this incident,” airline chief operating officer Klaus Goersch said.
Transportation Safety Board pictures showed significant damage to the plane with the nose torn off and an engine crumpled under a damaged wing.
“This was not a hard landing. This was an actual crash,” said Mike Magnus, 60, a businessman who was sitting in the first row.
“It was the closest I’ve ever came to death. There is no doubt in my mind. Obviously that’s some political manoeuvring.”
Mr Magnus said the snow covering the runway probably extinguished any sparks that might have caused the plane to catch fire.
Power initially went off at the airport and Nova Scotia Power later tweeted that it had been restored.
Airport spokesman Peter Spurway praised the crew and passengers for evacuating the plane within a minute.
“We just kicked the doors out and jumped on to the wing and then ran because we just wanted to get away from the airplane in case of explosions or anything,” said Dominic Stettler, a father of three.
Some passengers complained they were left standing on the tarmac, some in their stocking feet, for up to 50 minutes 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,” Mr Magnus said.
Mr Spurway said the airport was reviewing its response.
The Halifax region was under a snowfall warning, with an Environment Canada alert saying: “Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow.” Mr Goersch said, however, that the weather was appropriate 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,” he told a news conference. “The weather was appropriate for landing.”
Randy Hall, who with his wife Lianne Clark were on their way home from a Mexican holiday, said he believed the jet hit a power line before it crash-landed. There were sparks but no fire, he said.
“We were just coming in to land and there was a big flash,” said Mr 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 Ms Hall. “We were sliding along on our belly. I was looking out and I saw the landing gear go and I saw an engine go.”
Flight tracking site Flightradar24 listed several cancelled flights at the airport yesterday morning.