While crash investigators began combing through debris to determine what caused an American Airlines flight to overshoot the runway while landing in Jamaica, aviation experts on Wednesday pointed out just how fortunate the 160 people aboard were.
"The people in this crash in Jamaica were extremely lucky," said Andrew Maloney, a New York aviation attorney who specializes in aircraft litigation. "If you don't get a post-crash explosion or fire you've got a good shot at surviving something like this."
Maloney said passengers' good fortune stemmed from a landing that didn't result in the B737-800 aircraft colliding — nose first — with a heavy object such as a wall or the ground. He added that the pilot may have been able to significantly slow down the airplane's speed, preventing it from landing in the nearby ocean or road.
The plane cracked in half, both engines broke off from the impact, and the left main landing gear collapsed.
The accident happened about 10 p.m. Tuesday, about an hour and eight minutes after taking off from Miami as American Airlines flight 331. While landing, the flight skidded off the runway at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and stopped at ocean's edge. Of the 154 passengers and six crew members, four individuals were seriously injured, officials said. A few dozen passengers received cuts and bruises, and there were no reported fatalities.
Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board landed in Jamaica Wednesday afternoon to assist the island-nation's government with the probe. The team includes five NTSB aviation specialists, as well as technical advisors from the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines, Boeing Aircraft Co. and GE Aircraft Engines.
The NTSB typically assists foreign governments with investigations involving American-manufactured aircraft.