DENVER - It was a miracle that no one was killed when an airliner veered sharply off a runway during takeoff, burst into flames, and nearly broke apart, firefighters said yesterday.
There was no official word on the possible cause of the crash of Continental Flight 1404 at Denver International Airport, which injured 38 people. Cockpit and voice recorders were recovered and appeared to be in good condition, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The entire right side of the Boeing 737-500 was burned in the Saturday evening accident, and melted plastic from overhead compartments dripped onto the seats. Investigators said the plane's right engine was ripped away along with all the landing gear.
"It was a miracle . . . that everybody survived the impact and the fire," said Bill Davis, an assistant Denver fire chief assigned to the airport. "It was just amazing."
A crack encircled much of the fuselage near the trailing edge of the wings, Davis said.
Davis, one of the firefighters who rushed to the scene, said the plane came to a rest about 200 yards from one of the airport's four fire stations. Passengers walked out of the ravine in 24-degree cold and crowded inside the station, he said.
The 110 passengers and five crew members left the plane on emergency slides, officials said.
Passenger Emily Pellegrini told the Denver Post that as the plane headed down the runway, "it was bumpy, then it was bumpier, then it wasn't bumpy."
Gabriel Trejos told KUSA-TV in Denver that the plane buckled toward its middle and that the seats felt like they were closing in on him, his pregnant wife and his 13-month-old son, who was on his lap. His knees were bruised from the seat in front of him.
Maria Trejos told KUSA that there was an explosion and that the right side of the plane, where they were sitting, became engulfed in flames.
The injuries included broken bones, but Robert Sumwalt, an NTSB member, didn't know whether they were caused by the impact or the evacuation. Two people initially listed in critical condition at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver were upgraded yesterday, one to serious and one to fair, spokeswoman Tonya Ewers said.
Continental Airlines spokeswoman Julie King said that fewer than seven people were still in the hospital yesterday morning.
The plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and did not appear to have gotten airborne, city aviation manager Kim Day said.
The weather was cold but not snowy when the plane took off on a flight to Houston around 6:20 p.m. local time Saturday.