News World Passengers feared worst as plane slipped off Florida runway into river
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Passengers feared worst as plane slipped off Florida runway into river

A Boeing 737 aircraft carrying 143 people had a bumpy landing and slid off the runway at Jacksonville, Florida. Photo: Getty Images
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A team of 16 federal transport investigators will examine how a Boeing 737 plane with 143 people on board slid off a runway into a river in Florida, USA.

Passengers described a bouncy landing as the plane was attempting to land during a thunderstorm at Jacksonville’s Naval Air Station military base.

All people on board survived and 21 who suffered injuries were taken to hospital but there was concern for passengers’ pets stowed in the plane’s lower compartment.

The plane did not submerge because of the shallowness of the St Johns river, Naval Air Station Jacksonville authorities said.

The Boeing 737-800 chartered by the US military was arriving from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with 136 passengers and seven crew members when it slid into the river at the end of the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

Passengers reported that the plane had flown through lightning and thunderstorms on its way to Jacksonville.

Cheryl Bormann told CNN the plane had a hard landing, then bounced, screeched, listed to the right and left, swerved and “came to a complete, like, …a crash stop” as some oxygen masks deployed and overhead bins opened.

“We were in water. We couldn’t tell where we were, whether it was a river or an ocean,” Ms Bormann said. “There was rain coming down. There was lightning and thunder.

“And we stood on that wing for a significant period of time. Rescue folks came, and eventually someone inflated a life raft that had been on the plane, and we began climbing into it. Everybody was helping everybody.”

More than 50 firefighters were on scene within 20 minutes, authorities said, and started escorting passengers from the wing edge to shore using an inflatable raft.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that 16 investigators were arriving in Jacksonville on Saturday.

US President Donald Trump weighed in, offering support if needed.

It was not yet known how the incident occurred.

“NTSB team has expertise in aircraft operations, structures, powerplants, human performance, weather, airports and other areas,” the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Meanwhile containment booms have been placed around the jet to minimise fuel from spilling into the waterway.

The Boeing 737 is stuck in the riverbed, with the bottom of the fuselage under water and the plane’s nose cone missing.

Captain Michael Connor, the base’s commander, said they were doing everything to contain the fuel.

The plane, chartered from Miami Air International, was attempting to land at 9.40pm local time on Friday amid thunder and lightning when it slid off the runway and came to rest in the shallow water of the river, authorities and passengers said.

The military base is on the western bank of the St Johns River about 13km south of central Jacksonville, about 560km north of Miami.

Miami Air International is a charter airline operating a fleet of the Boeing 737-800, different from the 737 MAX 8 aircraft that has been grounded following two fatal crashes involving that plane.

A spokesman for Boeing said the company was aware of the incident and was gathering information.

The charter company is contracted by the military for its twice-weekly “rotator” round-trip service between the US mainland and Guantanamo Bay, said Bill Dougherty, a spokesman for the Jacksonville base.

It flies every Tuesday and Friday from the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to the Jacksonville air station and on to Cuba. It then flies back to Virginia with a stop again at Jacksonville, Dougherty said.

The mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry, said on Twitter everyone on board was “alive and accounted for” but crews were working to control jet fuel on the water.

“The plane was not submerged. Every person is alive and accounted for,” the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

The sheriff’s tweet was accompanied by photographs showing the plane bearing the logo of Miami Air International and chartered by the US Department of Defence resting in shallow water and intact.

-with agencies