Baltimore-Chicago plane slides off snowy runway

On ground, child is killed, 7 injured

2 passengers hurt in accident at Ill.'s Midway airport

December 09, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER AND LIZ F. KAY | NICOLE FULLER AND LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTERS

A Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore to Chicago slid off a runway at Midway International Airport, through a steel barrier and into traffic on a nearby street as it landed in heavy snow and wind, authorities said yesterday.

Two people on the plane were reported slightly injured. Hospital officials said a 6-year-old boy was killed and at least seven other people, one of them a 2-year-old, in cars were seriously injured.

The accident occurred about 7:15 p.m. when Southwest Flight 1248 from Baltimore slid off the runway, crashed through the airport's boundary fence and stopped in the intersection of 55th Street and Central Avenue, where it was struck by several vehicles, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Chicago.

Ambulances transported at least five people extricated from automobiles to Advocate Christ Medical Center in nearby Oak Lawn. A nursing supervisor said four males and a female victim, ranging in age from 2 to 30, were the first to arrive.

The child's death was confirmed later.

National Transportation Safety Board and FAA officials from Washington were on their way to Chicago to investigate.

"It was bam," said Katie Duda of Fells Point, who was aboard the plane and scheduled to catch a connecting flight for a business trip to Seattle.

"There was a huge crash. The plane flew up a bit and came down real hard," she said. "I looked out my window and I saw intersection lights."

"That was really scary," Duda said. "I had a window seat and I looked right outside the window and saw [the plane] was right in the middle of the street. I was not aware of it hitting the vehicle until I got off the plane."

Passengers used inflatable slides to exit the plane. FAA officials said they were bused to the terminal.

There reportedly were 90 passengers aboard the Boeing 737 and a crew of five.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the plane had circled Midway for 30 to 35 minutes because of the weather and the flight traffic before it was cleared for landing on the airport's 6,500-foot runway.

He would not speculate on what could have caused the accident but said the plane's captain had been flying for about 10 years.

The nose gear of the plane broke off during the accident, and the plane skidded through the barrier on the aluminum skin of the fuselage, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro. However, there was no smoke or fire.

Midway reported 7 inches of snow yesterday.

Lisa Spallitta, 35, of Towson, who was aboard the flight, said the runway was slippery.

"When we finally came down to land, it didn't seem like it was stopping," Spallitta said, via cell phone last night. "We started skidding. It was just a huge thump. Everybody bounced up."

Spallitta said the plane was evacuated in an orderly fashion about 10 minutes later.

"We stepped outside and there were firemen everywhere," Spallitta said. "There was a car wedged under the wing."

No smoke or fire was observed on the plane, said regional FAA spokesman Tony Molinero in a prepared statement.

The vehicle struck two cars, according to WGN-TV in Chicago.

"The pilot seemed shaken up when we were leaving," Spallitta said. "He just said we hit a patch of ice. There's nothing you can do. I think he handled it the best he could."

Fernando Ruiz, 44, was standing in front of his house shoveling snow with his wife when the plane pushed through the fence separating the airport from the street.

Ruiz said he only saw the plane after it came to rest. He said he was surprised that he didn't hear the plane crashing through.

"The first thing I heard was the sirens," Ruiz said. "Usually for something like this, you would here a big sound."

Midway is in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood, with homes and small businesses butting right up against the one-mile-square airport.

The sight of the hulking airliner in the middle of the avenue clogged with traffic sent bystanders scrambling, witnesses said. Fire trucks and ambulances arrived quickly and officials immediately cordoned off the area.

"We heard two real loud booms. We thought it was a semi, then people started running past," said Tom Fitzgerald who was tending bar at Fitzgerald's Pub on 55th Street.

"We looked out the window and we could see the tail section of the plane."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com liz.kay@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and The Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.

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