Passengers stood frozen in fear near an exit for several seconds, contributing to the loss of life aboard an airliner that hit a commuter plane in a crash that killed 34 people, a survivor said.
Five of the jetliner's six emergency exits also were blocked or not opened immediately after the crash, further hindering escape efforts, according to a report Thursday.The USAir jetliner, a Boeing 737 carrying 89 people, was landing at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday when it smashed into a SkyWestMetroliner preparing to take off. Twenty-two people aboard the 737 died and all 12 people on the smaller turboprop plane were killed.
Survivor William Heichel told The Associated Press Wednesday that after the crash panic-stricken passengers stood motionless in front of the 737's right wing exit as the cabin filled with smoke.
"As a former fireman I knew we were going to die. That toxic smoke was going to kill us," said Heichel, 46. "I never thought I would see people standing still. They were frozen."
Heichel said he scrambled over several seats to the left wing emergency exit, opened it and fell outside onto the plane's wing. He broke his leg getting to the ground.
Of the 21 people who died aboard the plane, 20 were trying to get out, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator James Burnett. One person who did escape died of burns and one victim was found strapped in his seat.
Burnett also described scenes of panic he said investigators pieced together from interviews with survivors.
He told of two men who trampled a woman trying to get to the right wing exit, then blocked it as they fought over who would go out first.
Friday's accident occurred when an air traffic controller put the commuter plane and the 737 on the same runway.