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'Miracle' in Colombia crash: Woman dies, 130 live
  • | AFP | August 17, 2010 08:49 AM

A Boeing 737 crash-landed Monday on a Colombian resort island during a lightning storm, scattering passengers across the runway as it split in three, but somehow only one passenger died.

A 73-year-old woman suffered a heart attack and died in hospital, but officials said it was a "miracle" there were no more fatalities among the 130 survivors, most of whom suffered some kind of injury.

The plane was struck by lightning 80 meters (250 feet) above the tarmac at Gustavo Rojas Pinilla airport on the Caribbean island of San Andres, aviation officials said, but the cause of the crash was still under investigation.

Passengers were "literally scattered over the end of the runway," a police statement said. The authorities later put the number of injured at more than 120, five of them seriously.

The most severely injured survivors were flown to Bogota for medical treatment later in the day, the island\'s police chief said.

"Among them is Maria Camila, an 11-year-old girl we found trapped among the plane\'s seats," Colonel Hector Paez.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington that at least three US citizens had been injured and were receiving medical care.

There were at least 16 foreigners on board the Boeing 737-300, including six French, four Brazilians, four Americans and two Costa Ricans.

"We all felt the plane was arriving very, very quickly on the tarmac," 28-year-old Virginie Giroux, one of the French passengers, told AFP.

"We did not feel the contact with the ground. We just saw everything flying, everything bursting in the plane."

Giroux and other passengers said the flight had been without incident and with little turbulence until moments before the crash.

"Suddenly we saw some light and felt thunder and then it was chaos," said one of the Brazilians, Katherine Lobo.

Orlando Paez Baron, director of civil security from Colombia\'s national police, said the pilot had briefly lost control of the aircraft but showed skill in keeping the plane on the runway.

"The impact dislodged the plane\'s motors and it split into three pieces," Baron said in a radio interview.

The plane, belonging to Colombia\'s Aires airline, left Bogota shortly after midnight (0500 GMT) and crashed in San Andres in conditions of reduced visibility about two hours later, according to air traffic controllers.

San Andres\'s governor Pedro Gallardo said it was only good fortune that prevented there being more casualties among the 131 people on board.

"We thank God for the miracle granted to this archipelago," he told national radio. "The captain, the co-pilot and all the crew are safe."

Gallardo was full of praise for rescuers who rushed to the scene and helped load the injured into police cars, ambulances, even taxis to get them to local hospitals.

"They went immediately to the site and responded in a fantastic way, as if it was a routine operation," the governor said.

Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia\'s Civil Aviation, said investigators were on their way to the Caribbean island.

Based on the preliminary reports, experts suggested a sharp change in wind direction or an air pocket linked to the lightning that struck the plane near the ground could have caused the crash.

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