MANILA, Philippines – Passengers of a plane from China that veered off a runway at Manila’s airport and lost an engine and a wheel after landing hard in a rainstorm recalled Friday their brush with the terrifying mishap, with some of the 165 people on board expecting the worst.
The Boeing 737-800, carrying 157 passengers and eight crew from China’s coastal city of Xiamen, managed to touch down close to midnight amid a downpour after aborting an initial attempt to land due to poor visibility, according to Philippine officials, who expressed relief that a disaster was avoided.
The airliner lost contact with the tower as it rolled off the runway into a rain-soaked field, where one of the plane’s engines and wheels got ripped off before everyone onboard scrambled out through an emergency slide, the officials said.
A Filipino-American from California, Ruben Lopez Espinas, thought the plane would crash. “I surrendered myself. I said, ‘Lord, I am yours if it’s really my time,’” he said.
Chinese passenger Wang Xun Qun embraced her teen daughter during the tense moments before the aircraft landed. When asked to describe their experience, the two repeatedly said, “Scary, scary.”
Chen Lei, who was on the plane with friends, said the plane touched down but pulled up steeply in a 90-degree angle a few seconds after it aborted the first landing. “My palm started to sweat,” he said.
When it did land, the plane glided for about five seconds then the wing and the engine under it hit the ground, with Chen witnessing the unfolding danger from a window. “The luggage fell down and many equipment inside the plane started to fall. I also smelled heavy smoke,” he said.
Then the plane suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
Shaken by the experience and drenched by the downpour, the passengers and crew of Xiamen Air Flight 8667 were taken to an airport terminal, where they were given blankets and food before going to a hotel, airport general manager Ed Monreal and other officials said.
“With God’s blessing, all passengers and the crew were able to evacuate safely and no injuries except for about four who had some superficial scratches,” Monreal said.
The plane failed to land at first apparently due to poor visibility that may have hindered the pilots’ view of the runway, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines Jim Sydiongco told reporters. The plane circled before finally landing near midnight but lost contact with the tower, Sydiongco said.
Investigators retrieved the plane’s flight recorder and will get the cockpit voice recorder once the aircraft has been lifted to determine the cause of the accident, Sydiongco said.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila’s main international gateway, will be closed until Saturday morning while emergency crews use a crane to try to lift the aircraft, its belly resting on the muddy ground, away from the main runway, officials said. A smaller runway for domestic flights remained open.
TV footage showed the plane slightly tilting to the left, its left badly damaged wing touching the ground and its landing wheels not readily visible as emergency personnel examined the aircraft. One of the detached engines and landing wheels lay a few meters (yards) away.
A Xiamen Air representative, Lin Hua Gun, said the airline will send another plane to Manila to resume the flight. The Civil Aviation of China said it was sending a team to assist in the investigation.
Nearly 80 international and domestic flights have been canceled or diverted due to the closure of the airport, which lies in a densely populated residential and commercial section of metropolitan Manila.
Torrential monsoon rains enhanced by a tropical storm flooded many low-lying areas of Manila and northern provinces last weekend, displacing thousands of residents and forcing officials to shut schools and government offices. The weather has improved with sporadic downpours.
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