PENSACOLA, Fla. — An Eastern Airlines DC-9 carrying 105 people landed so hard that it broke open behind the wings and dragged its tail 7,000 feet along the runway, officials said.
Three of the 105 people aboard the jetliner suffered minor injuries during an emergency evacuation after the violent landing late Sunday. They were treated at hospitals and released.
Investigators on Monday climbed aboard the crippled twin-engine jet, which remained on the closed runway with a crack at least two feet wide circling its fuselage between the wings and engines.
Several passengers said they had expected the worst after the plane slammed onto the runway.
Ran From His Seat
"I was sitting right where it cracked, and I looked down and I saw the runway going underneath me," said passenger Kyle Farnhill, who ran from his seat to the front of the plane. "I wasn't going to fall out and get smashed."
Farnhill said the plane came down at a sharp angle, "kind of like coming straight down like a helicopter."
"I thought it would crash and burn," passenger Tyrone Taylor said. "I knew we were coming too fast. We hit real hard."
Passenger Carolynn Fleming of Pensacola said: "I just felt this terrible jolt and bump, the worst landing I had ever known. And then I looked back to see what happened, and part of the plane was not where it should be.
"It seemed like we skidded a mile. I don't know how far, but it seemed that way."
The jetliner, Flight 573, originated in Richmond, Va., and passed through Atlanta. It dragged its fractured tail section the length of the 7,000-foot runway, stopping within 50 yards of the far end, said Chuck Porter, acting manager of Pensacola Regional Airport.
Incident Called 'Unusual'
"It's very unusual," Fred Farrar, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said. "The only other one even similar to it was several years ago."
In that accident, the tail cone of a MD-80, an updated version of the DC-9, broke off behind the rear-mounted engines after a certification test flight by the FAA at least seven years ago, said Nissen Davis, director of communications for the Douglas Aircraft Co., a division of McDonnell Douglas, manufacturer of both planes.
"If you hit anything hard enough, you are going to do some damage," Davis said in a telephone interview from Long Beach, Calif.
The Eastern jetliner landed in rain and fog; visibility was only two miles and the ceiling was 900 feet, Jack Barker, a spokesman for the FAA in Atlanta, said. But he said that he was not sure if weather was a factor.
The cause of the accident has not been determined, investigators said.
Drucella Anderson of the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington said that the plane was cleared for an instrument landing approach but the tower told the crew that the airport's landing monitoring system might not be working properly. However, the crew responded that it seemed normal.
Pilot Not Identified
The plane's captain is a 20-year veteran pilot, Eastern spokeswoman Karen M. Ceremsak said. She refused to identify him. Eastern executives said they were not sure if the plane could be salvaged.