MADRID, Spain (AP) — A Spanish airliner bound for the Canary Islands at the height of the vacation season crashed, burned and broke into pieces Wednesday while trying to take off from Madrid, killing 149 people on board, officials said.
There were only 26 survivors in the mid-afternoon crash, said Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, whose department is in charge of civil aviation. It was Spain’s deadliest air disaster in more than 20 years.
A police officer said the bodies were so hot that police could barely touch them and told El Pais newspaper the shattered wreckage bore no resemblance to a plane.
Dozens of ambulances rushed to the site as columns of smoke billowed from the wreckage. The prime minister broke off his vacation in southern Spain and rushed back to Madrid, heading straight for the airport.
“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” ambulance driver Luis Ferreras, who viewed the crash site, was quoted as saying by El Pais.
Spanair Flight JK5022 â€” bound for Las Palmas during the height of Europe’s summer vacation season â€” was just barely airborne when it veered right, crashed and broke into pieces, reports said.
Spanair spokesman Sergio Allard told a news conference the plane was carrying 175 people and the cause of the crash was not immediately known.
El Pais said the plane left an hour late because of technical problems. It eventually managed to get slightly off the ground but crashed near the end of the runway, El Pais said, quoting an employee of the national airport authority AENA.
Helicopters and fire trucks dumped water on the plane, which ended up in a wooded area at the end of the runway at Terminal 4.
A makeshift morgue was set up at the city’s main convention center, officials said.
Mats Jansson, the chief executive of Spanair’s owner, Scandinavian Airlines, said he had no information about the toll or the accident itself.
In Germany, Lufthansa said it issued tickets to seven people who checked in for the flight, and that four of those were from Germany. It was unclear whether they were German citizens.
Sweden’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that two Swedes were onboard the aircraft. One of them has been located at a hospital while the other is unaccounted for, ministry spokeswoman Gufran al-Nadaf said.
The plane was an MD-82 on a codeshare flight with Lufthansa’s LH255, Spanair said. Departures from Madrid’s airport were suspended for several hours.
McDonnell Douglas was bought out by Boeing in 1997. Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said the company would send at least one person to assist in the investigation of the crash as soon as it receives an invitation from Spanish authorities.
“We stand ready to provide technical assistance,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.
Allard said the plane last passed an inspection in January of this year and no problems with it had been reported since then. The plane is 15 years old and has been owned by Spanair for the past nine, he said.
Last July, 199 people were killed in Brazil when an Airbus A320 belonging to TAM airlines skidded off the runway at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport before crashing into a nearby gas station and an air cargo building.
Five people died and 65 were injured on May 30 when the A320 belonging to Grupo Taca skidded off the end of the runway at Toncontin International Airport near the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
The deadliest disaster in aviation history occurred in Spain in 1977 as a result of a runway collision between two fully loaded Boeing 747s in the Canary Islands. A total of 583 people died.
In November 1983, a Boeing 747 operated by the Colombian airline Avianca crashed near Madrid as it prepared to land, killing 181 people.
In February 1985, an Iberia Boeing 727 crashed near Bilbao in the Basque region, killing 148 people.
By HAROLD HECKLE Associated Press Writer