It was a scene of potential disaster: a fully fuelled airplane crash-landing on a busy city roadway just short of a runway.
Nine people on the flight were injured – three critically – and the craft broke into pieces and burst into flames. But initial reports indicated that no one died, and that somehow the pilot had avoided a much larger tragedy.
The RCMP said the plane hit one vehicle as it landed, but it’s not known if anyone inside that vehicle was injured.
The passengers and crew were taken to hospitals in Vancouver and Richmond after the 4:12 p.m. PT crash on bustling four-lane road in Richmond, BC Canada.
Anna Marie D’Angelo of Vancouver Coastal Health said one person was taken to hospital after being hit with an object that may be linked to the crash. Three people were at Richmond General Hospital in stable condition, and six were at Vancouver General Hospital, three in critical condition and three in stable condition.
Injuries include burns, fractures and back injuries, she said. Coastal Health also said BC Ambulance treated one person at the scene.
Witnesses reported seeing rescuers struggling to evacuate passengers and crew from the downed Beech King Air 100 aircraft, which was in flames following the crash about 900 metres short of the runway.
Nikolai Jensen, 14, was walking home from school when the plane went down about 16 metres in front of him, trailing fire.
“I didn’t see any wheels coming down,” he said. “It was just skidding on its belly.”
People got out of their cars and rushed to the plane immediately. They started pulling passengers out, even though there were flames and black smoke shooting out.
“Everyone that got out was helped out or dragged out,” he said.
The youth said he saw people being pulled out of the plane. There was, he said, one person in the cockpit that the Good Samaritans couldn’t get out. Nikolai was too much in shock to help.
Gordon Turner, the associate dean of the Aerospace Technology Campus of the British Columbia Institute of Technology near the crash site, said he could see some of the activity from his office. He said the fire appeared to have been put out, but police were still on the scene.
“No wreckage was visible from my vantage point, though you could see where the smoke was coming from,” he said. “There was quite an active plume of black smoke.”
The plane turned back from its flight path at 3:56 p.m., just as it flew above Golden Ears Provincial Park, north of Mission, B.C. The aircraft began steadily descending from 15,900 feet, flying at 370 kilometres an hour and turning south. Ten minutes later, it was over Surrey, at just 3,500 feet. The last record, at 4:11 p.m. shows the plane at just 300 feet, and just to the east of Russ Baker Way, where it crash-landed.
Vancouver International Airport said the Kelowna-bound Northern Thunderbird Air flight was en route to Kelowna when it ran into undisclosed trouble.
“We just know the pilots reported a problem and we’re headed back. … Our initial information is that the pilot didn’t declare an emergency and was cleared to land, “ said Bill Yearwood, a regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board.
He said the plane came back on the most direct route. “[The pilot] was cleared to land on that runway and fell just short,” he said.
Richmond and Vancouver— Globe and Mail sunny dhillon and Ian bailey. With reports from Rod Mickleburgh, Matt Robinson and Robert Matas
Gravity always wins!