‘I just came out of it with scratches’ - passengers describe surviving plane crash
‘It’s not every day you kind of fall from the sky and live to tell about it’
Shortly after boarding the flight on Tuesday afternoon, Ashley Garcia said had a premonition that something was wrong. The 17-year-old high school student from Northlake, a suburb of Chicago, was one of 65 US citizens among the 103 passengers and crew aboard the Aeromexico passenger jet that crashed near the runway shortly after take-off.
Settling into her seat, Garcia saw a storm was gathering fast in the distance, and by the time the aircraft began preparing for takeoff it was battered by strong winds, hail and rain. Garcia captured the scene through her window with her cellphone.
“I had a gut feeling: just record it, just record it,” said Garcia. “I was like, there’s no way we are taking off, it’s too risky.”
The flight crashed moments after taking off, skidding to a halt in scrubland near the runway, a wing in flames. Passengers described how they followed escape procedures, enabling everyone to evacuate without any fatalities.
“We had been told so many times what to do,” Garcia said of the safety protocol passengers around the world are taught every time they board a plane. “No one ever thinks it’s going to happen until it happens to them. We were there for each other... That’s how we were able to get off safely.”
Investigators found the Embraer passenger jet’s recorders on Wednesday and have still to determine the cause of the crash. Aeromexico said 64 people have been released from hospitals. Two people, including the pilot, were more seriously injured.
Liliana Gallarzo, Garcia’s cousin, thought the bumpy take-off was turbulence until the aircraft began skidding and panic set in.
“We were screaming,” said Gallarzo, a 19-year-old college student from Chicago. “Everyone was trying to get away from the plane, trying to get out.”
They smelled the smoke right away. But the cousins were seated in the middle of the cabin, and passengers were exiting from the front and rear doors, as the emergency exits in the middle of the plane were unused due to the fire near the wing, Garcia said.
Filing behind fellow travelers, they made their way toward the rear as the aircraft filled with smoke. Garcia grabbed her phone but left her luggage behind, losing her glasses in the shuffle.
When they reached the exit, there were no emergency slides, meaning they had to jump, Garcia said. A trampoline was there to cushion their fall, and fellow passengers helped them make the jump.
Once off the plane, Garcia coughed and vomited, choking for air. A flight attendant directed the cousins to get as far away as possible from the plane, which was soon engulfed by the fire, leaving only smoldering wreckage after firefighters extinguished the blaze. They walked through the rain, their clothes soaked.
After waiting for further direction, they headed closer to the runway, where firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel sprang into action, checking passengers for injuries. Suffering from minor scratches and bruises, Garcia was taken to the hospital, where she underwent X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before returning home that night.
She said the compassion shown to her by emergency personnel affirmed her desire to be a police officer. She has a flight home booked for Friday.
“I didn?t think I would be able to get back on a flight, but I have experienced the worst,” Garcia said. “So now whatever happens, it?s meant to happen.”
“It’s not every day you kind of fall from the sky and live to tell about it,” said Alberto Herrera, a 35-year-old webpage engineer from Chicago.
Jose Luis Corral, a 52-year-old business owner from Portland, Oregon, agreed. “It’s a good thing we’re all alive,” he said, still wearing a neck brace from injuries he suffered in the crash.
“It’s so fast, terrifying to see all the people screaming,” added Mr Corral, who was one of four people who helped the plane’s badly injured pilot escape the blaze.
The pilot suffered a serious neck injury and remains in hospital. Forty-eight others were also injured, and 22 remained in hospital on Wednesday.
Mr Herrera said the skies were sunny as passengers boarded the Aeromexico flight from Durango to Mexico City, and the violent storm seemed to come from nowhere.
“When we were sitting on the plane there was a little drizzle, but nothing to worry about. It was just a little light rain, super light, like barely hitting the windows.”
“The airplane actually was shaking before we even moved so I knew it was dangerous weather,” he said.
“I thought that we were going to have a delay until the weather clears up, but the pilot began to move so I thought that he knows what he is doing.
“I think it was a mistake by the pilot. He should not have taken off.”
Durango state governor Jose Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, but certainly the weather was not favourable.
Mr Herrera said the take-off went bad, seemingly in an instant.
“You start gaining speed and as soon as you start taking off all of the sudden the plane starts struggling and it’s getting hit with hail. The higher up we went into the storm, the heavier the hail got and more wind got to us.
“Then all of a sudden the plane starts rocking and it starts seriously, seriously moving around and then hitting the ground.
“We skidded and hit a second time and you saw the flames. You’re like, ‘This might be bad’.”
He said he braced for impact and yelled for others to do the same. The woman sitting next to him was able to hold onto her toddler, though the little girl suffered some scratches and may have hit her head on a seat.
Officials said the impact ripped both engines off the Embraer 190 jetliner, and fire immediately broke out in the wings.
“My window turned red because of the flames,” Mr Parsa said. He said he tried to kick out a window but could not.
He searched for an exit and at first could not find one because of all the smoke. Then suddenly he felt fresh air on his face. He was in front of the exit.
“Imagine you put 100 people in a room, in a dark room, pitch dark, filled with smoke and there’s a small door, everybody’s trying to find it. That’s what the situation was.”
At the back exit, Mr Herrera said the emergency slide had deployed but the fuselage was at an odd angle, so it was unusable and people had to jump to the ground.
The passengers walked back across the muddy field to the end of runway and waited there for emergency vehicles.
Mr Herrera said he was thankful to be alive.
“Me, I just came out of it with scratches. Other people are seriously injured.”
He credits both the pilot and the fact that the plane had not gained much altitude when the storm broke out for the good outcome. - Reuters, AP