Boy killed as jet slides on to road

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The Independent US

A Boeing 737 trying to land in heavy snow at a Chicago airport slid off a runway and crashed through a boundary fence, on to a busy street where it hit one car and pinning another beneath it. A six-year-old boy in one of the vehicles was killed.

Two of the 103 people on the airliner suffered minor injuries in the accident at about 7.15 pm (01.15 GMT) last night at Midway International Airport, and eight people in the two cars were hurt, authorities said. Five people were in one car, four in the other.

The six-year-old boy was dead on arrival at a nearby hospital, said spokeswoman Deborah Song. Two adults and two other children were at the hospital, their conditions ranging from serious to good, she said.

Passenger Mike Abate, 35, said after the landing he saw a father carrying an injured child and other people being taken away in an ambulance.

"That was the toughest part. We were safe on the plane, but the toughest part was to realize that someone was under the belly of the plane," Abate said.

Ninety-eight passengers and five crew members were on board Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 from Baltimore, Maryland, on the US east coast to the Midwestern city of Chicago.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane slid off the runway at the north-west corner of the airport, through the boundary fence and into the road.

The plane's nose was crushed and a severely damaged engine was on the ground, said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

Midway, Chicago's second-largest airport after O'Hare International, shut down after the accident and planned to reopen at 6am (1200GMT) today.

A statement from Southwest Airlines early today said the airline planned to resume operations at Midway at that time. Midway serves more than 17 million travellers a year, many of them on Southwest.

Passenger Larry Vazzano, 54, from the Baltimore area said the landing seemed normal at first.

"There was a bump. I saw snow rush over the wing, then there was a big bump," Vazzano said. "I braced myself on the seat in front of me."

He said some passengers used inflatable slides to get out of the plane in the blowing snow, while others got out on stairs at the rear of the plane.

The passengers were held for questioning by investigators and first responders for about three hours, Vazzano said.

At a news conference in Dallas, the airline's CEO Gary Kelly said the plane circled Midway for about half an hour because of the weather and traffic before it was cleared for landing.

"There are no indications that there are any maintenance problems with that aircraft whatsoever," Kelly said, adding that the plane had a service check in Phoenix on Wednesday.

National Transportation Safety Board and FAA officials from Washington were en route to Chicago to investigate.

James Burnett, a former NTSB chairman, said investigators likely would examine factors including weather, instrumentation, engines and runway operations, in particular whether snow removal was adequate.

Midway reported 7 inches of snow yesterday, but Abrams said runway conditions at the time were acceptable.

The airport is closely bordered by streets lined with homes and businesses.

The accident occurred 33 years to the day after a crash at Midway that killed 45 people, two of them on the ground.

In that crash, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 533 was instructed by the control tower to execute a "missed approach" pattern. The pilot applied full power to go around for another landing attempt.

A little more than a mile from the airport, the airliner struck tree branches, then hit the roofs of a number of neighbourhood bungalows before ploughing into a home, bursting into flames. Eighteen passengers survived.