Weather at Halifax airport ‘appropriate’ for landing: Air Canada – The Globe and Mail

Air Canada says it was safe for pilots to land a plane in Halifax that crashed early Sunday morning during a snowstorm.

Chief operating officer Klaus Goersch says the pilots flying AC624 circled above the Halifax airport for a period of time but the weather was safe for them to land.

“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,” Goersch told a news conference.

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“The weather was appropriate for landing.”

The plane, which left Toronto just before 9 p.m. Saturday, landed hard and skidded off a runway Sunday at 12:43 a.m. AT, Air Canada said.

There were 133 passengers and five crew members aboard at the time. Goersch said 25 people were taken to hospital and all but one of them have been released.

“All of us at Air Canada are greatly relieved that there have been no critical injuries as a result of this incident,” he said.

“It obviously has been very unsettling for our customers and their families and we have been working very hard with them to take care of them and see after their needs.”

Passengers on board the plane said they believe the aircraft hit a power line as it came in to land and described the plane skidding on its belly for some time before it came to a stop.

The power went off at the airport, which meant an emergency response centre had to be moved to a nearby hotel, Spurway said. Nova Scotia Power said in a tweet that power was restored to the airport, but it didn’t indicate why the electricity went out.

Randy Hall and his wife Lianne Clark were on their way home from a Mexican vacation when they said the plane ran in to trouble as it landed.

“We just thought that we were landing hard. And when the … air bags started to deploy and you saw things falling on the floor, we said, ‘Oh no. We’ve got to get out,’ ” said Clark, a computer consultant “We just opened the doors when we landed and everyone started to pile out.”

Hall said he believes the jet hit a power line before it landed hard on the runway. There were sparks but no fire, he said.

“We were just coming in to land and there was a big flash,” said 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 Hall, who is retired and lives in Mount Uniake, N.S.

“We were sliding along on our belly,” he said.

Hall said the aircraft hit so hard, the landing gear and at least one of the engines was ripped from the plane.

“I was looking out and I saw the landing gear go and I saw an engine go,” said Hall.

Air Canada declined to give a description of the damage to the aircraft in an email.

“We have no information to provide on the condition of the aircraft at this point,” wrote a spokeswoman.

Damage to the nose of the aircraft, as well as to its starboard wing and tail, could be seen in photographs taken at the scene by The Canadian Press. Because of obstacles blocking views of the plane, it couldn’t be determined whether the engines were still attached.

Cpl. Greg Church of the RCMP said a power line south of the runway outside airport property was damaged, but Nova Scotia Power couldn’t be reached to comment on what caused the damage.

Hall said passengers left the plane immediately but they were left standing on the tarmac, some in their stocking feet, for more than an hour as they were lashed by wind-whipped snow before buses arrived.

The couple, who were wrapped in blankets as they spoke, said they saw some people with bloody faces, but it didn’t appear that anyone was seriously injured.

Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said emergency responders were at the scene within 90 seconds and their first priority was dealing with any possibility of fire.

Fire trucks had limited space and the power outage complicated getting buses to the scene, said Spurway.

“Once it was determined that threat was out of the way, they put some of the passengers in fire trucks to get them out of the weather on a triage basis,” he said.

“There was a large tarp used to protect some of the passengers but they were out there for a while, that’s for sure, until the buses arrived.”

Spurway said there will be a review of the airport’s response.

A spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said two investigators were scheduled to arrive at the airport early Sunday to assess whether an investigation will be done by the agency.

Spurway said the plane was flying in a southerly direction when it landed on the airport’s main runway, adding that it is up to pilots to decide whether it is safe to land in bad weather based on information relayed from ground crews to the tower.

Dominic Stettler, 31, of Wolfville, N.S., said people on board the plane responded with level heads.

“I think we hit a power cable, there was a lot of sparks,” he said. “We hit the ground, we came up and then we slid on the runway for quite a long time. We just kicked the doors out and jumped onto the wing and then ran because we just wanted to get away from the airplane in case of explosions or anything.”

Stettler said people were helping each other after they got off the plane.

“A woman offered me her jacket because I was shivering and pulled me into a tight warm hug and we just sat there for a while. It was kind of special actually,” he said.

The flight crew told the passengers that conditions at the airport weren’t good and they would circle for an hour to see if things improved, he said. If they didn’t, Stettler said the flight was going to head to Moncton, N.B.

“And then there was a window of visibility and we went for it,” said Stettler, 31, the father of two boys and a girl.

The landing didn’t feel right when the plane touched down, he said.

“I actually didn’t know we (were) on the runway. I thought we might be on a field and that at any point we could run into a tree or some obstacle. While we were sliding, I just thought about my boys and my family,” he said.

Once he was off the plane, he ran to get safely away from the aircraft.

“I tripped over a big metal object, which must have been one of the components,” Stettler recalled. “It was just completely surreal. Parts of the plane were scattered across. I don’t really want to say too much because I don’t want to terrify people. But yeah, it was surreal. It was very surreal.”


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