Up to 150 tourists killed as plane breaks in two after skidding off runway at Madrid airport

Posted on 1:25 PM by Sameer Shah

All but 26 passengers have been killed after a plane carrying 173 people broke in half and burst into flames when it skidded off a runway during a take-off at Spain's busiest airport.

'It's the closest thing to Hell that I've seen,' one rescue worker said tonight.

'The bodies were boiling. We burned ourselves just by touching them.'

Civil Guard officer Guillermo Altares said from the scene: 'There is nothing left resembling a plane. It is horrific. It is totally burned.

'It's horrific, I can't even tell you.'

Ambulance chief Luis Ferreras said: 'I've never seen anything like it in my life.'

Madrid emergency services have confirmed 149 dead so far, saying just 26 survived, eight of whom are in a critical condition.

The 15-year-old plane, Spanair flight JK5022 was reportedly carrying 173 people - 166 passengers and nine crew. It was a single aisle short- to mid-term range MD-82 travelling from Madrid to Gran Canaria.

It is believed the fire began in the left engine shortly after take-off, forcing the plane to attempt an emergency landing. Witnesses claimed the plane was 100 metres off the ground when they saw the engine explode.

As the pilot attempted to land the plane veered to the right and crashed, breaking in two and skidding from the runway into a hollow surrounded by trees. Eyewitnesses then heard another explosion.

Some Spanish media suggested the plane had been delayed an hour before take-off due to technical problems. It was reportedly the plane's second attempt at take-off.

A relief plane carrying specially trained personnel is now being sent to Madrid.

'It's a miracle anyone survived,' one emergency worker told El Mundo.

'The cabin was full of carbonised bodies,' another said.

'They are pulling out burnt corpses. The plane has been completely destroyed.'

Some of the wounded have been taken to La Paz hospital, which has a burns unit.

A makeshift morgue was being set up at the city's main convention centre, officials said.

'It is certain catastrophe,' a spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero interrupted his vacation in southern Spain to travel straight to Madrid airport, his office said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was sorry to hear of the tragedy.

There were two children on board the flight, which had an earlier connection with Lufthansa's LH255. Lufthansa said seven passengers with Lufthansa tickets, four of them from Germany, had checked in for the flight, and a Canary Islands official said passengers included Swedes and Dutch.

Relatives of the passengers on board have already begun to arrive at the airport. A room has already been prepared to offer them psychological support from the Red Cross.

Roads around the airport were closed as authorities declared a state of emergency.

Large columns of smoke were billowing from a fire on the plane. Helicopters were seen flying over the crash scene.

Spanish media claimed 70 firetrucks, 45 ambulances, and 230 emergency workers had rushed to the scene.

The flight was taking off near Terminal 4 at the Barajas airport for Gran Canaria at 2.45pm today.

'Spanair regrets to confirm that its flight number JK 5022 from Madrid to Las Palmas de Gran Canarias was involved in an accident at Madrid, at 14.45 hours local time today,' the airline said in a statement.

'Spanair is doing everything possible to assist the Spanish authorities at this difficult time. Spanair will provide further information as soon as it becomes available.'

Departures at the airport have opened again and limited arrivals are running.

Barajas airport sees over 40 million passengers a year and is one of Europe's top five busiest airports.

Spanair is Spain's second biggest airline after Iberian airlines.

A subsidiary of Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS), it has been struggling with high fuel prices and tough competition during an economic slowdown. It has announced it was laying off 1,062 staff and cutting routes to turn the airline around after losing $81 million in the first half of the year.

Just hours before the crash, Spanair's pilots threatened to strike. SAS has been trying to sell Spanair since last year.

The MD-80 series is a short to mid-range airplane made by American firm McDonnell-Douglas. The first were made in the mid-1980s.

US manufacturer Boeing Co bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997, and the last of the MD-80 family rolled off its production line in 1999.

It has a wing span of 107feet 10inches and length of 147feet 10inches, with maximum seating for 172 including a flight crew of two.

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