TORONTO — An Air Canada passenger plane landed so significantly short of the runway in Halifax that it hit a power line and knocked out power at the airport, the lead investigator said Monday.
The Airbus 320 landed 1,100 feet (335 meters) short of the runway during an early Sunday morning snowstorm. It crashed into a bank of antennas and sheared off its main landing gear, nose cone and an engine before skidding on its belly. Twenty-five people were taken to the hospital and all but one has been released.
Mike Cunningham, regional manager for Canada's Transportation Safety Board, said investigators are still trying to determine why Flight AC624 from Toronto landed prematurely.
Cunningham said they interviewed the pilots Sunday night but that he is prohibited from commenting about what they said. The cockpit voice recorder and flight data are being downloaded Monday.
The airport terminal building went black as the plane hit a power line outside several hundred feet outside the airport.
"That's pretty unique. The power line itself is well beyond the obstacle clearance criteria from that runway and that aircraft touched down significantly short of the runway," Cunningham said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
A power generator on the airfield kicked in so the lighting there was not affected but two generators failed in the terminal building. The power outage meant an emergency response center had to be moved to a nearby hotel. Nova Scotia Power later restored power, and police said a power line south of the runway outside airport property was damaged.
Cunningham said he's sure the power outage was a contributing factor in the delayed response in retrieving the 133 passengers and five crew members. Passengers complained they were left standing on the tarmac for up to 50 minutes as they were lashed by wind-whipped snow before buses arrived. He said the length of time it took to respond will be a big part of their investigation. Halifax Stanfield International Airport spokesman Peter Spurway also said they are also conducting an investigation into their response.
"We can do better than that," Spurway said. "The question is how do we move 138 people safely off a runway in a snowstorm at quarter to one on a Sunday morning."
Spurway said they were lucky people weren't seriously hurt. "We are hugely fortunate and they are hugely fortunate and we are very, very grateful for that," he said.
The airport, Canada's seventh largest with 3.6 million passengers, reopened 5 ½ hours after the accident.
Halifax was under a snowfall warning when the plane landed at 12:43 a.m., with an Environment Canada alert saying, "Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow."
Passengers said the plane circled the airport for a half hour because the pilot said he was waiting for better visibility. The pilot also warned passengers he was thinking of diverting to Moncton, New Brunswick before he decided to land in Halifax. Air Canada Chief Operating Officer Klaus Goersch said the weather was appropriate for landing.
Cunningham said it's likely they were a number of factors for the accident. About a dozen investigators are surveying the accident site and recovering pieces of wreckage Monday.
Cunningham said the passengers and crew were lucky because there was no fire.