Toronto – A passenger jetliner carrying about 200 people erupted in flames Tuesday after skidding off a runway while landing in a fierce thunderstorm at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Black smoke billowed into the air as the wreck burned.
Police said the plane was an Air France A340 from Paris that was trying to land when it ran into trouble. There was a storm — with lightning and strong wind gusts — in the area at the time.
There was no immediate word on casualties. Reports said the jet had about 200 aboard.
A row of emergency vehicles lined up behind the wreck, and a fire truck sprayed the flames with water.
A portion of the plane’s wing could be seen jutting from the trees as smoke and flames poured from the middle of its broken fuselage. At one point, another huge plume of smoke emerged from the wreckage, but it wasn’t clear whether it was from an explosion.
The flaming ruin was next to the four-lane Highway 401, Canada’s busiest highway, and some cars and trucks stopped on the roadway after the crash.
CNN reported the flight was Air France Flight 358, which was scheduled to arrive in Toronto at about 4 p.m. from Charles de Gaulle International Airport near Paris.
“They made an approach in weather that was worse than what they anticipated,” John Wiley, a retired Airbus pilot in Toronto, told CNN.
Leah Walker, a radio reporter in Toronto, said she saw a third of the plane fall and that the rest became a fireball. “This plane attempted to land in some very fierce weather we had today,” she said.
Thunderstorms create the possibility of wind shear, the sudden, dangerous air currents that can dash an airplane to the ground as it takes off or lands.
The last major jumbo jet crash in North America was on Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 lost part of its tail and plummeted into a New York City neighborhood, killing 265 people. Safety investigators concluded that the crash was caused by the pilot moving the rudder too aggressively.