Toronto Airport Was on Alert Before Plane Crash Toronto's Pearson International Airport was under red alert due to powerful storms in the area when an Air France jet skidded off the runway and caught fire Tuesday. Melissa Block talks with CBC reporter Derek Stoffel.
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Toronto Airport Was on Alert Before Plane Crash

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Toronto Airport Was on Alert Before Plane Crash

Toronto Airport Was on Alert Before Plane Crash

Toronto Airport Was on Alert Before Plane Crash

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Toronto's Pearson International Airport was under red alert due to powerful storms in the area when an Air France jet skidded off the runway and caught fire Tuesday. Melissa Block talks with CBC reporter Derek Stoffel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Remarkably, no one was killed this afternoon when an Air France jet carrying more than 300 people skidded off a runway in Toronto and caught fire. Airport officials say 24 people suffered minor injuries. Here's how Steve Shaw of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority described the approach of the Airbus jet.

Mr. STEVE SHAW (Greater Toronto Airport Authority): An A340 was flying in from Charles de Gaulle. It landed on runway 24 left and overran that runway by some 200 meters. Emergency services responded immediately, and the passengers were able to be evacuated.

BLOCK: The plane, Air France Flight 358, was coming from Paris to Pearson International Airport. Some of the passengers on that plane have given interviews, including Roel Bramar, who spoke to the Canadian broadcasting network, the CBC.

Mr. ROEL BRAMAR (Passenger, Air France Flight 358): The captain wasn't able to apply sufficient braking power or whatever you call it, and there was a real roller coaster going on. I guess in the end, it turned out to be that we came to the end of the driveway and went into the ravine. The plane came to an abrupt stop, and that's putting it mildly. And there was a bit of an announcement at first to just stay in your seats. I was in the very, very back of the plane and could see that there was fire outside. And I was the second person off the plane, down the chute.

BRAND: Derek Stoffel is a reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He joins us from Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

And, Mr. Stoffel, can you describe what you've heard about this crash? What happened when the plane came down?

Mr. DEREK STOFFEL (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation): Well, what we know is that in Toronto this afternoon, there was a very heavy thunderstorm and a lot of lightning. No official word from transport authorities whether that actually was the cause of this plane skidding into a ditch, but we do know there was bad weather. In fact, here at Pearson, they were calling it a red alert for severe weather, so they weren't allowing planes to take off. They were allowing these planes to land. And that's when we know this plane from Paris airport to Toronto skidded off the runway.

What we do know now is that no one was seriously injured. Fourteen people were treated for some sort of injuries. No word yet, but when you consider that there were 309 people on this plane, very lucky that no one was more seriously injured. One of the reasons why that may be is because they think they were able to get the passengers off the plane before it actually caught fire, and it was an amazing scene. You see the pictures of the smoke billowing over Canada's busiest highway as this plane caught fire. But they do think right now that the passengers were able to get off.

BLOCK: And this all happened very quickly. What sort of time elapsed, do you know, between when the plane came down and then when it burst into flame, giving the passengers and the crew time to get off?

Mr. STOFFEL: Not very much time at all. They were able to get the passengers off very, very quickly. I talked to one of the brothers of someone who was on board. He said he spoke to his brother by cell phone and that they were, you know--it was within seconds or within minutes, at least, that they were able to get all the passengers off of the plane. Good thing because, as we know, there was a fire later on.

BLOCK: There would be, I imagine, many, many family members there at the airport waiting for people to get off of this plane and wondering what was happening. They would have seen the smoke and not known at all what was going on.

Mr. STOFFEL: That's right. I'm actually in a hotel just north of one of the terminals here where they're bringing family members and friends of the people who were on this plane. We've had a chance to speak to a couple of them and, you know, there were a lot of tense moments and people waiting to hear about whether their friends and relatives were injured.

BLOCK: Mr. Stoffel, there was apparently a lightning storm as this plane was trying to land. Should the plane have been landing? Has anyone said--was the airport functioning, and were planes landing?

Mr. STOFFEL: No, pretty early yet. But as I say, to repeat that there was this red alert in effect, and that was stopping planes from taking off. They were landing some planes. Officials from Canada's Transport Safety Board, they're on the way to the scene here. Certainly that will be a large part of the investigation. There's not been a lot of crashes here at Pearson, but about 25 years ago, we had been hearing, there was a crash; we think it may be in the same place, right near this big ditch right before the 401 Highway, it's called, so, you know, only a couple of--you know, about 40 feet away from the highway that this ditch is. That's where the plane sits right now.

BLOCK: And how quickly were rescue crews able to get to the scene to get these passengers away?

Mr. STOFFEL: We were told that they were here pretty much within seconds, and within seconds certainly of this plane skidding off the runway. I--because they restricted access to the scene, but I was able to see a live shot on television a few moments later, and all you could see were, you know, the flashing red and white of fire and ambulances. What we were told is that there were hundreds of emergency personnel who made it to the scene and, of course, they drill, they practice for this all the time. But this afternoon here in Toronto, it was not a drill.

BLOCK: Derek Stoffel is a CBC reporter in Toronto, just outside Pearson International Airport.

Derek, thanks very much.

Mr. STOFFEL: You're welcome.

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