03/08/2005

Passengers escape airliner inferno in Toronto

Passengers on an Air France flight to Toronto, including several British travellers, escaped injury after the jet over-ran the runway, careered into a gully and caught fire.

All 309 on board the jet - 297 passengers and 12 crew - managed to escape the blazing wreckage at Toronto's Pearson airport after a crash landing in poor weather at around 8.00pm (GMT) - 4.00pm local time.

The aircraft an Airbus A340-400, which has a good safety record, may have been hit by lightning and passengers reported that all the lights had gone out, plunging the cabin into darkness, just before the plane attempted to land.

Canadian officials confirmed that around 20 passengers had been treated for minor injuries when the plane overshot the runway by over 200 metres, crashed through the airport security fence and ended up nose down in a gully.

The aircraft broke into several pieces and eyewitnesses reported seeing several "fireballs" as flames engulfed the plane.

Airport emergency fire crews fought for over two hours to bring the blaze under control.

Reports form the scene indicate that there was heavy rain and lightning in the vicinity of the airport at the time of the crash.

A spokesperson for Greater Toronto Airport Authority confirmed that the fire heavily damaged the aircraft, Flight AF358 from Paris, but that all the passengers were evacuated before the blaze reached the fuselage.

The Federal Transport Investigation Board has launched an investigation into the incident, which will commence as soon as the emergency services have finished working at the scene.

(SP/KMcA)

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