A USAir Boeing 737 airliner coming in for a landing Friday struck an outbound commuter plane and caught fire at Los Angeles International Airport, killing as many as 15 people and injuring 25, officials said.
The airliner collided with a SkyWest commuter plane, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elly Brekke said, adding that they crashed on the ground.National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Jeff Rich said the death toll could rise beyond 15.
"Right now, we're looking at more than 15 dead. I can't give you a firm figure but that's a good ball park number," he said.
Scores of people survived the crash and at least five were confirmed dead, said Bob Dambacher, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
"It was mayhem. It was really terrible. The plane was split up in two pieces," said Salt Lake City resident John Heffner, 28, who was aboard another plane that landed shortly after the crash and taxied past the wreckage.
Heffner said the pilot of his Southwest Airlines flight reported to the passengers that the landing gear of the USAir flight had not lowered before the crash.
At least 25 other people were injured in the collision about 6 p.m. PST between USAir Flight 1493 and SkyWest commuter Flight 5569, airline and fire officials said.
The USAir jet originated in Syracuse, N.Y., and had stopped in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. The SkyWest flight was preparing to take off. A spokeswoman for SkyWest Airlines confirmed that there were fatalities on the commuter plane, which was carrying 10 passengers on a flight set to go to Palmdale, about 40 miles to the north.
Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for USAir, said the 737 carried 94 passengers and a crew of six or seven.
She said there were dozens of survivors. Uninjured passengers were being kept in a room at the USAir terminal.
Dan Goss of Ridgecrest, Calif., was a passenger on the USAir flight. "It seemed like we suddenly hit something. There was no warning. The crew did a good job."
Goss said passengers used the inflatable emergency chutes to evacuate. "People got out pretty good. As far as I know everybody got out."
Brekke, offering different numbers than airline spokesmen, said, "We have 29 people unaccounted for, 72 people accounted for. There is a total of 101 for both planes, but as to the status of all those people, we don't know."
She said both runways on the north side of airport were closed. "On the south side, there are two parallel runways open. We will expect some delays at this airport since we are working with 50 percent of capacity, but the airport is still operating."
A stream of more than a dozen ambulances lined up outside the USAir landing gate, waiting to take people with lesser injuries to hospitals.
The twin-engine Boeing 737, silver with maroon, pink and orange striping, wound up smashed into a small building alongside one of the runways on the north side of the airport, one of the busiest in the nation. Thick gray-white smoke billowed into the night sky and grass alongside the runway was set afire.
Beth Olson, who lives in an apartment building overlooking the runway, said she saw "the tail end of the (USAir jet) plane on fire and as it touched the ground the entire body of the plane went on fire. You could see flames on the runway."
In Washington, USAir chief spokesman David Shipley described the 737-300 as one of the newer jets in the airline's fleet. The flight began its daylong cross-country journey in Syracuse, N.Y., and continued through Washington and Columbus and was scheduled to continue onto San Francisco.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation team was en route from Washington, a spokesman said.