Critical injuries avoided as military-chartered jet ends up in river
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A military-chartered jet carrying 143 people landed hard, then bounced and swerved as the pilot struggled to control it amid thunder and lightning, ultimately skidding off the runway and coming to a crashing halt in a river at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
It meant chaos and terror for passengers in the Boeing 737, as the plane jolted back and forth and oxygen masks deployed, then overhead bins opened sending contents spilling out.
But authorities said all the people onboard emerged without critical injuries Friday night, lining up on the wings as they waited to be rescued.
The NTSB sent a team of investigators Saturday to the crash site in the St. John’s River in north Florida, where the aircraft was still partially submerged in shallow water and its nose cone was sliced off, apparently from the impact. Several pets were still on the plane as well, and their status wasn’t immediately clear. A Navy statement early Saturday offering “hearts and prayers” to their owners said safety issues prevented rescuers from immediately retrieving the animals.
The flight took off Friday from the U.S. military base in Cuba with 136 passengers and seven crew members. It was a regular charter run by Miami Air International, which has many military contracts, including weekly flights between the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Jacksonville air station, as well as Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages.
Among those onboard was Cheryl Bormann, a defense attorney, who described the chaotic landing.
The plane “literally hit the ground and then it bounced. It was clear that the pilot did not have complete control of the plane because it bounced some more, it swerved and tilted left and right,” she told CNN. “The pilot was trying to control it but couldn’t, and then all of a sudden it smashed into something.”
Passengers lined up on the plane’s wings before climbing into rescue boats, said the base’s fire chief, Mark Brusoe.
Authorities say nearly two dozen people were taken to local hospitals. Most have since been released.
Capt. Michael Connor, the commanding officer of NAS Jacksonville, said the passengers were a mix of military personnel and families, and a few civilians.
“I think it is a miracle,” Connor said Friday night. “We could be talking about a different story this evening.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what went wrong.
Team members recovered the plane’s flight data recorder Saturday.