Stansted reopens after crash

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Stansted Airport reopened after the runways were checked for debris of a cargo jet which crashed in a fireball moments after take-off.

Stansted Airport reopened after the runways were checked for debris of a cargo jet which crashed in a fireball moments after take-off.

Severe delays were caused to holidaymakers on what should have been the airport's busiest day of the year after investigators closed the airport until 11 am.

It is thought the four-strong crew of the Korean Air 747 died in the crash which happened last night on the outskirts of Hatfield Forest, Essex, close to the busy M11 and the villages of Little and Great Hallingbury.

A man's body and a number of other body parts have been found at the remote woodland spot where the aircraft plummeted to the ground and exploded.

Paul Leaman, Essex Ambulance Service director of operations, said there was little doubt that the three man crew and the engineer perished.

He said: "We believe that the people on board did not survive the crash."

Also recovered was one of the flight's two 'black box' recorders which Air Accident Investigation Branch officials hope will reveal the cause of the crash.

Police confirmed the aircraft had been carrying a "small quantity of chemicals" but a spokesman said "there is no danger to the public from any toxic substances".

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will visit Stansted this morning to meet investigators and members of the emergency services.

The accident came just moments after the Boeing 747-200 jet took off for Malpensa Airport, in Italy, at 6.40pm, only a day after the 11th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster.

Horrified drivers on the M11 watched in disbelief as a giant cloud of fire and smoke shot into the sky as the plane crashed in woods nearby.

The impact of the crash was so great it shook passengers and staff at the airport terminal nearby.

Louise Cockburn, 27, a rental sales agent with car firm Avis, said there was an atmosphere of shock.

"There was a tremor. It was just like this trembling noise and the whole building shook," she said. "All the windows shook and you could feel it around you.

"I haven't been working here very long so I'm fairly green about airport noises. I didn't know what it was. But you knew it was something bad. There was a sense of shock around the whole building."

Residents from miles around reported seeing a giant fireball light up the sky.

Farmer Joseph Tranter described how he saw the plane "explode like a giant firework".

Mr Tranter, 43, said: "Once the plane came down a big mushroom cloud erupted into the air like a bomb had gone off in the forest.

"There were flames leaping up about 300ft into the air - it was an absolute inferno with debris showering everywhere."

Buildings in the area escaped damage but the accident took out power lines, plunging many local homes into darkness.

Andrew Smith, who lives near the crash site, said: "There was a large fireball and a massive explosion. My whole house shook.

"Suddenly all the lights in the area went out, the whole sky was lit up."

Mr Smith said the plane came down in a field about a mile south of Stansted.

"I went out of the house and saw that the field where the plane had come down was just ablaze."

Parts of the wreckage were scattered yards from outbuildings in the farm yard of Marston's Farm in Little Hallingbury.

Police estimate the wreckage is spread over an area of about one square mile which covers two farm fields.

Despite torrential rain, smouldering debris could clearly be seen hanging from tree branches and the stench of burning hung heavy in the air.

Insp Ivor Harvey, who secured the scene, said: "The area is simply scattered with small pieces of wreckage. There appears to be hardly any recognisable pieces of wreckage of any size left.

"It's not for me to say what happened but there appears to have been a considerable explosion."

Local councillor Norman Mead said last night: "We are sitting here in the dark feeling very lucky to be alive."

Stansted Airport was immediately closed and flights suspended with 44 incoming services diverted to other airports.

A spokesman for Stansted said this morning: "The airport remains closed until a daylight search of the runway for any debris can be made.

"We do not expect to re-open before 10am. We advise passengers to contact their airline company before travelling to the airport."

The crash is another major blow for Korean Air which has one of the worst airline safety records in the world following a string of recent accidents.

In August 1997 a Korean Air Boeing 747-300 crashed into a hill on landing at the Pacific island of Guam. Of the 254 people on board, 228 were killed.

In April this year a Korean Air McDonnell Douglas MD11 freighter crashed at Shanghai in China killing three crew as well as five people on the ground.

A month earlier another of the airline's aircraft, an MD83, overshot the runway on landing at Pohang in South Korea and broke apart, while in August 1998 one of its Boeing 747-400s veered off the end of a wet runway on landing in Seoul injuring 26.

In the last few months Air France, Air Canada and American carrier Delta have all suspended their marketing link-ups - known as codesharing - with Korean Air because of their fears.