A charter plane carrying 143 people and traveling from Cuba to north Florida ended up in a river at the end of a runway Friday night, though no critical injuries or deaths were reported, officials said. (May 4)
Federal investigators were hoping Sunday that information obtained from a flight data recorder would unravel the mystery of why a Boeing 737-800 rolled off the end of a Florida runway and into the St. Johns River.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigator Dan Boggs said his 16-person team recovered the data recorder Saturday. The voice recorder was in a submerged portion of the plane and was not immediately retrieved, authorities said.
All 143 people aboard survived the precarious mishap Friday night during a thunderstorm at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. They climbed onto the jet’s wings and were swept to safety by rescuers in boats.
More than 20 people were treated for minor injuries, but only one was hospitalized – a 3-month-old baby, and only as a precaution, authorities said.
“I think it is a miracle,” base commanding officer Capt. Michael Connor said. “We could be talking about a different story.”
Bruce Landsberg, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said skid marks indicated the plane swerved to the right and hit a sea wall before rolling into the river. He said the runway pavement had no grooves that might have allowed rainwater to flow off more quickly. That would be just one of many possible factors investigators will examine, he said.
Boeing issued a statement saying it was providing technical assistance to the NTSB’s investigation.
At least four pets were traveling in the luggage department located in the bottom of the military-chartered jet that had arrived from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They remained on the aircraft and were presumed dead, Kaylee LaRocque, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville, confirmed to USA TODAY.
Although the Boeing 737 plane was not completely submerged in the shallow water, the bottom portion, where the pets were positioned, was under water.
Connor said emergency responders looked in the cargo bay and did not hear any animal noises or see any crates, suggesting they were under water. The plane was considered unstable, and responders then withdrew for their own safety, Connor said.
He said emergency personnel later completed a second assessment but again they did not see any pet carriers above the water. The flight’s manifest recorded a total of four pets on board, but LaRocque said it’s possible more could have been boarded.
“It’s a very, obviously, rough situation,” he said. “My sympathy and my heart really goes out to those families.”
The plane skidded off the runway at around 9:40 a.m. Cheryl Bormann, a prominent defense attorney who was aboard the plane, described a chaotic landing as the pilot appeared to lose control of the aircraft before it touched down, bounced and swerved.
Naval Air Station Jacksonville is a military airport about eight miles south of downtown.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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