Passengers survive airliner crash

A TOTAL of 130 passengers and crew escaped alive after their airliner crashed and broke into pieces while landing on a Caribbean island yesterday.

The Boeing 737 broke into three on the Colombian island of San Andres, but only one of the 131 on board died.

The Colombian Air Force said it was investigating reports the plane had been hit by lightning before crashing at 1.49am local time (0749 BST) on the island, about 120 miles east of the Nicaraguan coast.

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The Aires jet had left the Colombian capital of Bogota at about midnight.

A n air force spokesman said 125 passengers and six crew members had been aboard. The only person killed was Amar Fernandez de Barreto, 65. At least five people were reported injured.

Ninety-nine passengers were taken to the Amor de Patria Hospital on San Andres, which said only four suffered major injuries.

"It's incredible. For the dimension (of the accident), there should be more," said a spokesman.

He added that an initial examination indicated that Mr Barreto may have died of a heart attack.

The air force spokesman said the cause of the accident was uncertain. He said part of the 7,800ft runway had been closed because parts of the plane were still scattered across it. But enough was usable that air ambulances would be able to land.

Police Gen. Orlando Paez said by phone that a group of police officers who had been waiting at the airport for the plane to take them back to the Colombian mainland helped in rescuing the victims.

Passengers later said that the pilot had announced he was about to land and all seemed normal as the plane descended through rain.

But suddenly it hit short and then slid onto the runway on its belly as the fuselage fractured. It wound up on one end of the runway, crumpled and in pieces, as passengers scrambled or were helped to safety

Firefighters quickly doused the beginnings of a fire on a wing.