December 21, 2008 in Nation/World

Passengers escape burning jet in Denver

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

In this image taken from video released by KUSA-TV in Denver is shown a Continental Airlines Boeing 737 on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008 in Denver. Thirty-eight people suffered injuries including broken bones, and two were in critical condition with fractures after the plane slid off the runway and caught fire trying to depart Saturday evening from Denver International Airport, according to officials.
(Full-size photo)

DENVER (AP) — Passengers expecting a flight to Texas instead had to flee their burning airliner, sprawled in a smoke-filled ravine off a runway with the fuselage partially buckled and one engine and part of its landing gear ripped off.

There was no official word yet Sunday on the possible cause of the crash of Continental Flight 1404 at Denver International Airport.

The entire right side of the Boeing 737 was burned in the Saturday evening accident and melted plastic from overhead compartments dripped onto the seats.

Thirty-eight people suffered injuries including broken bones. The conditions of two people who had been in critical condition at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver were upgraded Sunday, one to serious and one to fair, spokeswoman Tonya Ewers said.

Continental Airlines spokeswoman Julie King said fewer than seven of those injured were still in the hospital Sunday morning. She declined to comment on the types of injuries.

Five of the six airport’s six runways had been reopened by late Sunday morning and airport officials didn’t expect any delays related to airport operations, said airport spokesman Jeff Green.

Passenger Mike Wilson of Denver described the chaotic scramble to leave the burning plane on updates he posted on Twitter from the airport using his cell phone.

“By the time the plane stopped we were burning pretty well and I think I could feel the heat even through the bulkhead and window,” he wrote. “I made for the exit door as quickly as I could, fearing the right wing might explode from the fire. Once out, I scrambled down the wing.”

The 110 passengers and five crew members made it out on emergency slides, and firefighters extinguished the flames quickly, Green said.

The weather was cold but not snowy when the plane took off on a flight to Houston around 6:20 p.m.

The plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and did not appear to have gotten airborne, city aviation manager Kim Day said. Debris was scattered on the runway, with the plane about 200 yards away.

The plane ended up in a ravine between runways.

Region National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were on the scene and a team of senior NTSB investigators was en route, officials said.

Continental planned to provide a special flight Sunday for people who wanted to return to Houston. King said the airline also offered to fly family members from Houston to Denver. There was no immediate indication how many of the plane’s passengers were still in Denver.

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