Dozens Injured As Plane Skids Off Runway In Jamaica

Dozens of people were hurt Tuesday night when an American Airlines Boeing 737 overshot the runway in Kingston, Jamaica. The plane was landing during a heavy rainstorm, when it skidded off the end of the runway.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And now we have a firsthand account from that American Airlines plane that skidded off the runway in Jamaica. Rain was pouring down in Kingston when the plane came in for a landing. It cracked into three pieces, but all 154 passengers and crew made it out.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has spoken with one survivor.

WADE GOODWYN: The pilots on Flight 331 knew they were in for it when their completely full airplane departed Miami just before 9:00 last night. As they climbed over the dark sea, they warned their passengers to expect turbulence. Eighteen-year-old Victoria Tavares-Finson returning from her first semester at Boston University sat in row 10.

Ms. VICTORIA TAVARES-FINSON: They told us it was going to be bumpy and it was raining a lot in Kingston.

GOODWYN: The cabin crew attempted to serve, but abandoned the effort mid flight. As they approached the runway at Norman Manley International Airport, Finson says the plane was bucking. Nevertheless, the pilots landed the 737 on the runway and the relieved passengers broke into applause. But then, Finson says, she noticed they weren't slowing down like they should've been.

Ms. TAVARES-FINSON: It just kept going fast and it didn't seem like it was slowing down. Then about a few seconds later, it hit, like, a wall. All the things dropped down, the lights went off and the plane cracked in certain areas.

GOODWYN: Tavares-Finson was seriously injured. Her face smashed and broken, her nose would require two hours of surgery to repair this morning.

Ms. FINSON: I think some of the luggage must've dropped down and hit me. I think I may have flew forward and hit because right where the plane had crashed and crumbled in, it was two seats in front of me. So I was right there where it hit. So I think I took a lot of the impact.

GOODWYN: Badly injured, the Boston University freshman was nevertheless able to scramble over a minefield of luggage, get out of the plane and down onto the beach where she was eventually rescued and taken to the hospital. The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team of six investigators. Did the 737 hydroplane on the wet runway? Was it going too fast? Should planes have been landing at all in that weather will be among the first questions. Tim Wagner is a spokesperson for American Airlines.

Mr. TIM WAGNER (Spokesperson, American Airlines): As you see an incident like this every time, there's a lot of speculation up front. We're not going to speculate at this time because there's just nothing solid to go on at this point.

GOODWYN: The airline has sent its care team down to help the passengers and their families with logistics and aid, and it's breathing a sigh of relief. Two days before Christmas, the fates first frowned, then smiled on Flight 331. Everyone lived to tell about it. Victoria Tavares-Finson has three weeks before break is over. She says she loves Boston and wants to go back to university, but now she's frightened of returning by plane. She thinks she might not.

Ms. TAVARES-FINSON: It was very traumatizing because it just kind of all happened before your eyes in, like, a matter of seconds.

GOODWYN: Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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