5 Still in Hospital After Denver Jet Crash
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By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: December 21, 2008
WASHINGTON � Five people remained hospitalized on Sunday in Denver with injuries they sustained when a Continental Airlines jet ran off a runway on Saturday night while trying to depart on a flight to Houston.
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Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post, via Associated Press
A Continental jet on Sunday at the Denver airport a day after it veered off the runway. �It�s down in a hole,� said Robert L. Sumwalt III of the National Transportation Safety Board.
About 33 others who were aboard the jet were treated at area hospitals and released, the authorities said.
The jet, a fully loaded Boeing 737-500, was carrying 110 passengers and 5 crew members when it veered off the runway and ran into a ravine, shedding its left engine and both main landing gears, and catching fire. Ground crews quickly extinguished the fire.
�It�s down in a hole,� said Robert L. Sumwalt III, the member of the National Transportation Safety Board at the scene.
Mr. Sumwalt said the airplane had left �good, solid witness marks� on the pavement, showing its path.
Some investigators said they believed the pilot was trying to abort the takeoff. One aviation official said that the way the plane had veered off the runway suggested several possibilities: that engines were operating at different thrust levels; that brakes on the two main landing gears were operating with different effectiveness; or that thrust reversers on the engine had not deployed symmetrically.
Investigators with the safety board had not interviewed either of the two pilots as of Sunday evening, so it was unclear which of them was in command at the time of the crash. One of the pilots was taken to a hospital, but it was not clear if that pilot was among those who had been treated and released or if he was still hospitalized.
It was also not clear if the plane was ever airborne; the airport manager said it ran into the ravine about 2,000 feet down the length of the 12,000-foot runway. The runway was free of snow and dry at the time of the crash, 6:18 p.m. on Saturday, Mountain time, officials said.
The ravine was near an airport fire station. The fire that followed the crash was so hot that it melted some overhead luggage bins, firefighters said, but it was not clear if any of the passengers suffered burns or smoke inhalation. Most of the injuries were broken bones or bruises.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were both recovered. They were �a bit sooted,� said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the board, but technicians expressed optimism that they would produce good data.
One passenger told a Denver television station, KUSA, that the plane�s seats had come loose. In 2005, the Federal Aviation Administration mandated stronger seats for new planes but did not require retrofits on the older ones.
On Sunday, Continental operated a special flight to Houston for the passengers on the accident flight, Flight 1404, who still wanted to go, and flew some relatives of passengers to Denver.