TARGET 060920
"Miracle" in Toronto

Canada's transport minister has called it a "miracle" that over 300 passengers and crew escaped from an Air France jet that skidded off a Toronto runway.

About 3.30pm the day turned to night as the fiercest storm Toronto has had for a long time got into full swing.

The Airbus A340 crashed in bad weather on Tuesday, slithering into a ravine before bursting into flames.

Passengers described chaotic scenes as they tried to escape Flight 358 in darkness while a thunderstorm raged.

Moments after the last survivor clambered away, the fuselage was engulfed in smoke and flames.

A total of 297 passengers and 12 crew fled the wreckage of the plane, which had tried to land in bad weather at Toronto's Pearson airport.

The Airbus A340 crashed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in bad weather, skidding into a ravine, before bursting into flames.

Airport officials said some 43 people were injured in the accident, but there were no deaths.

The Airbus crash-landed amid thunder and lightning at 1603 local time (2003 GMT).

Several passengers suggested that the aircraft might have been hit by lightning either just before or just after landing.

"It was raining hard," said Gilles Medioni, a passenger seated in the centre of the plane. "When we touched down a lot of people clapped their hands, but it was a little premature."

After touching down on the runway the plane lurched across the wet tarmac, before skidding towards the airport perimeter. It overshot the runway by about 200m (660ft) into a shallow ravine next to Canada's busiest motorway, Highway 401, ending with its tail pointing in the air.

It overshot the runway by 200m (660ft) into a wooded ditch next to Canada’s busiest motorway.

Drivers on Highway 401 watch as smoke billows from the Air France plane near the airport perimeter.
Passengers spoke of smoke and kerosene fumes filling the cabin as they scrambled to escape, fearful of a massive explosion.

"Everybody was jumping as fast as possible and running everywhere, because the fear was that the plane would blow," passenger Olivier Dubois told the AFP news agency.

Steve Shaw of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority said emergency services had been on standby at Pearson airport because of the developing thunderstorm throughout the day. The airport had been under a "red alert" since midday on Tuesday because of the danger of lightning. Rescue workers reached the airliner and began helping passengers off the plane within 50 seconds. It was after everyone was off the plane that it burst into flames, and the job of the rescue workers turned to that of putting out fires.

The path of the landing
The path of the landing is shown in this diagram.


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BBC NEWS: "Relief after 'miracle' air escape" (includes a movie clip) Click here

And, for movie clip commentary on the fact that the incident was called a miracle by so many people, click here