AA sends team from D/FW to scene of Jamaica crash landing

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by JASON WHITELY / WFAA-TV

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

wfaa.com

Posted on December 23, 2009 at 9:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 23 at 11:29 PM

DALLAS — Before dawn Wednesday, American Airlines launched one of its spare 757 jetliners from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a charter flight bound for Kingston, Jamaica, with a team on board to care for the pasengers and crew of Flight 331.

Heavy rain was falling hours earlier when American Flight 331 carrying 148 passengers and six crew members, overshot the runway after landing in Kingston.

"Setting an airplane down in a heavy rainstorm means you've got a lot of standing water," former pilot and aviation expert John Nance told ABC News. "Even if the runway is grooved to drain the water, the tires are floating for a while on a thin film of water and you can't get any traction to help stop."

Authorities said 44 passengers suffered mostly minor injuries, but no one died.

"We just felt a big crash and alarm went off," a passenger said. "We felt a big impact. We realized the plane had crashed."

The crumpled Boeing 737-800 which was Flight 331 has cracks in its fuselage, a damaged nose, a broken wing, and an engine separated from the aircraft.

The wreckage sits just feet from the rocky coast of the Caribbean.

Images of the crash site are a sobering reminder for pilots.

"We fly in this challenging weather environment all the time," said Scott Shankland of the Allied Pilots Association. "It allows us to pause and say, 'Hey -- am I doing everything I can to ensure the safety of this aircraft?'"

Pilots said the final approach to Kingston is a little different. It's "offset," meaning jets approach from one side and not directly in front of the runway.

Though it's too early to speculate on the cause of the crash, weather will be examined, along with the aircraft and perhaps crew fatigue.

Records show the pilots in command of Flight 331 had been on duty almost 12 hours at the time of the accident. Their contract with American, however, says they can fly up to 14 hours a day.

"Our captain has well over 20 years, our first officer has well over 10 years," said Andrea Huguely, an American Airlines spokeswoman. "They're very seasoned pilots."

That crew is credited with helping evacuate the aircraft.

"Our crews did an admirable job taking care of our customers and making sure they got off the aircraft," Huguely added. "They did a great job."

Shankland said he talked to one of the co-pilots on Wednesday.

"We also have a personal report that the cockpit crew themselves personally insured every passenger was off that airplane," he added.

Experts figure the eight-year-old 737 will likely be cannibalized -- cut up and used for parts.

American said the team it sent Wednesday will stay as long as needed.

Representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board are also on the island assisting Jamaican authorities.

The pilots, said to be shaken up, will be off-duty until the investigation concludes. American said they will likely be debriefed in their home base of Miami in the coming days.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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