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Survivors recall chaos, fear as jet skidded off runway

"People rushed toward the only open door," said one of 178 who made it. Thirty died; 3 are lost.

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Abdel-Menem Hassanein remembers the jet landing, and then the chaos - the blast of an explosion, flames at the front of the plane, screams, and the sounds of passengers uttering their last prayers.

The 75-year-old soon realized: The flight attendant at the back of the Airbus A310 where he and his wife sat could not open the exit door.

"Many things were happening at once ... people rushed toward the only open door at the front," he said. He hurried there, pushed his 65-year-old wife out the open exit and onto the emergency slide - past the flames - and then immediately followed her.

The couple and more than 170 others escaped the inferno on the Sudan Airways flight Tuesday night that killed at least 30 people.

"If I didn't keep my cool, we both would have been finished," Hassanein said by telephone from his home outside Khartoum.

The jet skidded off the runaway at Khartoum International Airport and rammed into the lights used by pilots to navigate when landing in bad weather, sparking a fire on the aircraft's right side, a police spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb, said.

The blaze raged for hours, eventually splitting the plane in two, before firefighters put it out. Thirty people were killed, including one flight attendant; 178 escaped, and six people remain unaccounted for, Sudan Airways said.

Officials said some survivors most likely left the airport without reporting to authorities or going through customs.

An investigation was under way yesterday, and the airport reopened.

Airbus, which was sending in specialists to help with the inquiry, said the plane was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September.

Sudan has a poor aviation safety record. Three years ago, the government said it planned to build an airport outside of the city center by 2010. It remains in the planning phase.

Tuesday's flight touched down as thunderstorms pounded the city, but reports differed on the weather's role in the accident.

The flight originated in Amman, Jordan, and stopped in Damascus, Syria. Because of inclement weather in Khartoum, the aircraft stopped at Port Sudan Airport along the Red Sea, refueling before heading to Khartoum.

Hassanein, who was returning from Damascus after a family vacation, said bad weather had delayed the flight by three hours.