GEORGETOWN — A Caribbean Airlines jet coming from New York crashed and broke in two while landing in Guyana with 163 people aboard on Saturday, causing several injuries but no deaths, President Bharrat Jagdeo reported.
The Boeing 737-800 apparently overshot the 7,400-foot runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in rainy weather. It barely missed plunging into a 200-foot ravine that could have resulted in dozens of fatalities, Jagdeo said.
“We are very, very grateful that more people were not injured,” the president said as authorities closed the airport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and delaying dozens of flights. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.
Authorities struggled at first to remove passengers without adequate field lights and other emergency equipment. About 100 people received medical attention, with four hospitalized for serious injuries, said Devant Maharaj, transportation minister in Trinidad, where Caribbean Airlines is based.
Maharaj said the airline was sending a team to Guyana to help investigate the crash. No further details were available. He spoke at a press conference in Trinidad and took no questions, saying the investigation was ongoing.
The injured included Geeta Ramsingh, 41, of Philadelphia, who said passengers had just started to applaud the touchdown “when it turned to screams,” she said, pointing to bruises on her knees. She said she hopped onto the wing and then onto the dirt road outside the runway fence.
“I am upset that no one came to rescue us in the dark but a taxi driver appeared from nowhere and charged me $20 to take me to the terminal. I had to pay but, in times of emergencies, you don’t charge people for a ride,” Ramsingh said, sitting on a chair in the arrival area surrounded by relatives. She was returning to her native country for only the second time in 30 years.
Adis Cambridge, 42, of Guyana, said she felt the thump of a hard landing but did not think much of it until seconds later.
“I realized that everything was on top of me, people and bags. I was the second to last person to get off that plane in the dark,” she said, in company of her two young children who had come to the airport to meet her after a brief holiday in the U.S.
“I hit my head on the roof. It was so scary,” she said as she described hopping onto the wing and then jumping down to the dirt road below as crews with flashlights and beams from fire engines searched for passengers.
Some passengers asked authorities for their luggage but were told it was not a priority at the time.
The plane left New York and made a stop in Trinidad before landing in Guyana. The airline said it was carrying 157 passengers and six crew members.
Jagdeo said he has asked the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to help investigate the crash. He said crews were pushing to reopen the airport as soon as possible.
The crash of Flight BW523 is the worst in recent history in Guyana and only one of the few serious incidents involving the Trinidad-based airline. It is the single largest carrier in the region, operating at least five daily flights.
Associated Press Writer Tony Fraser in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, contributed to this report.