By Erica Werner (AP)
Burbank, Calif. – Southwest Airlines called it the worst accident in its 29-year history, but a day after a jet carrying 142 people hurtled off a runway and skidded to a stop just short of a gasoline station, everyone was talking more about what could have happened than what did happen.
After landing at the Burbank airport from Las Vegas, Flight 1455 screeched through a metal wall and fence Sunday evening in a cloud of smoke and stopped with its nose just 39 feet short of the gas pumps at a Chevron station on Hollywood Way.
The Boeing 737-300 struck a car, pinning its hood under the aircraft, but the driver and her 4-year-old daughter weren’t hurt. Fifteen passengers on the plane were slightly injured.
Airport shuttle bus driver Abayomi Omolewu said he and two other drivers were waiting to be sent on a call when they saw the plane blast through the airport fence.
Omolewu said he and the two other drivers ran. Omolewu tried to make a call on his cell phone, but because of the smoke, he couldn’t see to dial.
As the noise subsided Omolewu and others ran toward the plane, where they helped frightened passengers climb off the wing and off an emergency chute.
The 54-ton jetliner still had about 1000 gallons of fuel in its 5,311-gallon tanks. Thousands of gallons of gas were stored at the Chevron station. Although the plane leaked about 10 gallons of fuel, there was no fire.
“My feeling is they were very fortunate that it wasn’t more serious than it was,” said Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher. The airline known for its bargain ticket prices, has never had a fatality.
Investigators said the cause of the crash was not yet known.
The battered plane was hoisted by cranes Monday and towed to a secure area of the airport. Cockpit data recorders were removed from the aircraft and flown to the National Transportation Safety Board’s lab in Washington for analysis.
The pilot, a Southwest veteran since 1988 with more than 18,000 flying hours, will be interviewed today, said Jefferey R. Rich, the NTSB’s lead investigator. The weather was clear at the time of the crash and the jet, built in 1985, had its last maintenance check Thursday.
The plane landed on a relatively short runway – 6,032 feet – at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, northeast of downtown Los Angeles. The runway is well known to arriving travellers, who have to brace themselves for the rapid stop when thrust reversers and brakes are applied.
Depending on weight, flap configuration and runway conditions, a Boeing 737-300 requires between 3,200 feet and 4,500 feet to land, Boeing spokesman Craig Martin said.
Copied from 3/7/2000 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at page 6A
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