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'A miracle': Minor injuries after jet slides off runway into river

By Allen Cone
A Boeing 737, with 136 passengers and seven crew members, slid off the runway of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida on Friday night. Photo courtesy <a class="tpstyle" href="https://twitter.com/JSOPIO?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">Jacksonville Sheriff's Office/Twitter</a>
A Boeing 737, with 136 passengers and seven crew members, slid off the runway of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida on Friday night. Photo courtesy Jacksonville Sheriff's Office/Twitter

May 4 (UPI) -- A Boeing 737 slid off the runway of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida during severe weather, causing minor injuries among the 136 passengers and seven crew members though pets in the cargo hold are presumed dead.

The jet, which departed from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba around 7:30 p.m., came to a rest in the St. Johns River at 9:40 p.m. Friday, said the National Transportation Board, which dispatched a Go Team.

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About three-quarters of an inch of rain had fallen at NAS Jacksonville for about 45 minutes before the crash, said John Gaughan, WJXT-TV's chief meteorologist.

The plane was not submerged and "every person is alive and accounted for," according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on Twitter.

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"I think it's a miracle," Capt. Mike Conner, commanding of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, said at a news conference. "We could be talking about a different story this evening, so I think there's a lot to say about the professionalism of the folks that helped the passengers off the airplane because it very well could be worse."

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Naval Air Station Jackson posted on Facebook that minor injuries were reported, including some treated at the scene.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue said 21 people were transported to local hospitals. All of them were treated and released by Saturday morning, including an additional two people not initially listed.

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HCA Healthcare said 11 people were hospitalized, WJAX-TV reported.

Approximately 90 personnel from fire and rescue responded.

"Ironically, our Special Operations team trained for an incident like this today with the marine units," the agency tweeted.

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The passenger airplane, which is a Boeing 737-800, is operated by Miami Air. WJXX-TV reported Miami Air did not respond to inquiries.

The FAA said the flight was contracted by Department of Defense and not a commercial flight.

Conner said it wasn't known how long it would take to remove the plane from the river. The landing gear appeared to be resting on the river bed.

Crews began working to contain any jet fuel leaks.

Tara Lageman, who lives along the river across from the airport, said she didn't hear the plane go down but noticed lights from fire rescue vehicles and police cruisers.

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"It was like the 4th of July," Lageman told WJXT-TV. "I came outside and could see all the lights and it was just like a steady stream of emergency vehicles going onto the runway."

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry posted on Twitter: "We are all 1 family. 1 people. 1 City." He followed it up with a tweet: "White House called to help as the situation was developing."

At least four pets were checked in the luggage compartment in the bottom of the plane.

"Unfortunately, they have not been retrieved yet due to safety issues with the aircraft," NAS Jacksonville posted on Facebook. "Our hearts and prayers go out to those pet owners during this terrible incident."

The Boeing 737 plane is not completely submerged but the bottom portion, where the pets were positioned, is underwater.

"There's water in the cargo hold," Kaylee LaRocque, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville, told USA Today. "We are so sad about this situation, that there are animals that unfortunately passed away."

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