Halifax cargo plane crash kills 7
Last Updated Thu, 14 Oct 2004 16:02:18 EDT
HALIFAX - Transportation Safety Board officials have begun looking at what might have caused a Boeing 747 cargo plane to crash while leaving the Halifax airport early Thursday, killing all seven crew members on board.
The investigation remains in the hands of the RCMP's Major Crimes Unit until criminal involvement has been ruled out, however. That's the same protocol that emergency workers in the province followed after Swissair's Flight 111 crashed off Peggy's Cove in 1998.
The downed cargo plane.
"We're going to be going 24 hours, around the clock," RCMP spokesman Const. Joe Taplin told reporters at an afternoon briefing.
In Ottawa, Transport Minister Jean Lapierre said the investigation will be aided by the eyewitness accounts of two people who happened to be at the end of the runway when the crash occurred. The Department of National Defence has been asked to set up tents to shelter investigators and evidence at the scene of the crash, just off one of the main runways of the Halifax International Airport.
The tail of the MK Airlines jet appears to have snapped off as the plane tried to lift off at around 3:50 a.m. local time, loaded with lawn tractors, lobster, fish and 200,000 litres of fuel.
Witnesses reported hearing an explosion, seeing one or two flashes, and watching a huge orange fireball in the sky over the runway. It took about three hours for 60 firefighters and 20 trucks to extinguish a major blaze of burning jet fuel.
Jet lies in pieces
As day broke, the plane could be seen in pieces, with its tail sitting in a field at the end of the runway. A large piece of the charred fuselage lay about one kilometre from the runway, at the end of a large swath cut through the woods by the force of the fiery crash.
Emergency officials have recovered some remains of the seven male crew members. Six of them were from Zimbabwe and the seventh was from South Africa. RCMP and firefighters were still on the scene at midday, as officials from Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board began their investigation.
"We're gathering data. We're looking for abnormalities," said Bill Fowler of the Transportation Safety Board. It's much too soon to speculate on causes of the crash, he said. Fowler said transportation safety officials from the United States and Britain will provide help and support during the investigation, because the flight originated in the U.S. and the cargo company is based in the United Kingdom. The plane's home base was Ghana.
Other flights postponed
Passengers were stranded at the airport for several hours as the airport shut down in the immediate wake of the crash. Airport spokesperson Pat Chapman said 17 flights were affected by the shutdown. "Our thoughts and our prayers go to the families of those killed in this tragedy," Chapman told reporters.
Taxi drivers taking early-morning passengers to the airport reported being turned back. They said all they were told was that there had been some sort of incident.
Fire trucks head to crash site.
Commercial flights started leaving the airport again at around 9:30 a.m. local time.
Flight bound for Spain
The cargo flight had stopped in Halifax to pick up a load of seafood and refuel before heading to Zaragosa, Spain. Originating in Hartford, Conn., it had already picked up a partial load of lawn tractors. At the time of the crash, the weather was partly cloudy with some light winds blowing.
In an interview from Sussex, England, MK Airlines representative Steve Anderson told CBC that the 20-year-old plane had an "exemplary" service record. "She's been an absolute gem," he said. The airline had been flying out of the Halifax airport once a week for the past 18 months, Anderson said. The cargo company had experienced three other crashes in the past 12 years, all of them in Nigeria. One crew member died in one of the previous crashes. The crash put no homes in danger. The Halifax International Airport is located about 35 kilometres from the city's downtown.