STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- A steel-nerved Scandinavian airline pilot crash-landed his crippled Warsaw-bound jetliner carrying 129 people without loss of life Thursday, skillfully slowing his descent by clipping a row of trees and skidding to a stop in a snowy, ice-covered field.
More than 100 of those on board escaped injury, and only seven people were reported seriously hurt, after the engines of the SAS jet failed and its pilot crash-landed on a snow- and ice-covered field without the fully fueled plane catching fire.
'It's a miracle. I was very lucky,' passenger Goran Orjats said from the scene of the crash.
'The engines stopped working and they said there was danger and to keep calm. The plane went down slowly first, then it went down very quickly, first hit the trees and then stopped on the field,' Orjats said.
Passengers stunned witnesses by climbing from the wreckage, left in three major pieces, and walking in a line toward the nearest house, a local radio station reported.
'This was a Christmas miracle,' Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said after he arrived on the scene to assess the damage, breaking off his Christmas holidays.
The plane's pilot, Capt. Stefan Rasmussen said there were two different fields where he could have put the plane down and he had to make a quick decision.
'I decided that the best thing would be to brake the aircraft using tree tops and I could see that the field in front to the woods sloped gently downward, but I had to be careful of two houses at the end of the field,' Rasmussen said.
Air traffic controller Claes Wesslau said he had feared the worst. 'When I saw the plane disappearing from my radar screen, I was absolutely convinced that everyone would be killed,' he said.
The twin-engine SAS aircraft, a 9-month-old, U.S.-built McDonnell Douglas DC-9 MD-80 with route number SK751, took off from Stockholm's Arlanda airport at 8:40 a.m. with 123 passengers and six crew on board and was to have landed in Copenhagen at 9:40 a.m. before continuing to the Polish capital.
Another passenger said the crash had been 'surprisingly undramatic.'
'The plane came down and the green lights along the floor lit up. It wasn't very difficult to get out of the plane because there were big holes all over the place,' said Kirsten Svardstrom.
'And because the bottom of the aircraft was all scraped away it was easy to jump down to the ground. Once we'd helped everyone out who needed help we just walked away from the wreck. A few stayed behind to wait for rescue personnel,' she said.
'I saw the tree tops coming as we came gliding in, and I told my wife I didn't think this would end well. Then the plane began shaving off the tree tops and suddenly we were down. Rather softly, really,' said her husband, Graham Svardstrom.
On impact, the two wings of the aircraft broke off and the plane broke into three pieces on the snow and ice-covered field, but the airliner did not catch fire, despite having been fully loaded with seven tons of fuel for the trip to Poland.
Police said seven people were hospitalized 'in serious condition' and 107 people were rescued unscathed. Nine passengers received lesser injuries.
Passengers were 'miraculously seen parading in one long caravan toward the nearest house,' local Radio Uppland reported.
Police, rescue and airport officials said the first sign of trouble came a couple minutes after takeoff when the plane's captain reported he had engine trouble and said he would try to restart his engines.
'So far from what we know, the pilot just before the crash called up and said he had ice problems and he was trying to restart the engines. And then he went down ...' police spokesman Keld Edman said in a broadcast interview.
Swedish television said the attempt to restart the engines failed, Rasmussen reported, 'I am going to crash land,' and the aircraft came down from a height of 2,000 feet at Gottrora, some 12 miles from Arlanda airport.
'I am grateful that I was allowed to use my skills. Only one pilot in a million has a chance to do that -- to show his training -- in such a situation and I was lucky enough to be that pilot,' Rasmussen said.
'I can only give my deep thanks to my crew and all those who taught me my trade,' he said.
Appearing before reporters with a medical collar around his neck, Rasmussen was upbeat in commenting on what had happened.
'If I had to tell you what thoughts went through my mind when both engines failed, it would take me an awful long time,' he said, smiling.
'I did what I learned, was able to use all my skills and I think I had a little help from Christmas.'
'When we got to the scene, everyone was very quiet and calm, surprisingly so,' said Per-Anders Berthlin, a firefighter who was one of the first to arrive at the crash scene.
He said one man was trapped in the plane and after being cut free was flown to hospital in a helicopter. Several others of those injured refused to board helicopters to be taken to hospital, fearing boarding an aircraft again so soon. 'They were taken by bus,' he said.
'What an amazing feat by the captain and co-pilot. They managed to find a perfect site to put the plane down on,' SAS Operations Chief John Tulin said.
Both the flight data recorder and the voice cockpit recorder were recovered from the plane and taken to Copenhagen for inspection. The boxes contain all technical information on the plane's flight as well as voice recordings of comments passed between the captain and co-pilot.
An SAS crash team was sifting through the gnarled aircraft Friday night to determine the cause of the crash.