MEXICO CITY (AP) — An Aeromexico jetliner crashed while taking off during a severe storm in northern Mexico on Tuesday, smacking down in a field nearly intact before catching fire, though officials said it appeared everyone on board escaped the flames.
Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro initially wrote in his Twitter account that “it is confirmed there were no fatalities in the accident,” but he later said authorities were checking the plane’s burned-out hull to make sure no one had been trapped.
Aispuro said 49 people had been hospitalized. He said some passengers got out under their power, and some even wandered back to the nearby airport of Durango city to seek out relatives.
The state civil defense office published photos of a burning but relatively intact plane lying on its belly in a field. Ambulances lined up at the accident site to ferry the injured to hospitals.
Officials and witnesses differed on whether the plane either fell shortly after takeoff or ran off the runway without really gaining altitude. But they agreed the plane was trying to take off during a storm, with some describing marble-sized hail.
Israel Solano Mejia, director of the Durango city civil defense agency, told Foro TV that the plane “made it off the ground, but fell nose-first” just a few hundred yards from the end of the runway.
“The nose took the hit. The most seriously injured is the pilot,” Solano Mejia said. However, he said, “the majority of passengers left (the plane) under their own power.”
Gerardo Ruiz Eparza, head of Mexico’s Transport Department, said there were 97 passengers and four crew members aboard the Embraer 190. The plane has a capacity of 100 passengers.
The federal Transport Department office said in a press statement that the airplane “suffered an accident moments after takeoff,” but gave no information on the possible cause.
Ruiz Esparza told the Milenio television news channel that “it was a big accident, the plane caught fire … there was a very strong storm at the time of takeoff.”
Aeromexico said the flight was AM2431 from Durango to Mexico City.
The web site Planespotters.net said the Brazilian-made medium-range Embraer 190 was about 10 years old and had seen service with two other airlines before joining the Aeromexico fleet.