The investigation has begun into the Spanair crash in which 153 people were killed at Madrird airport. The rear-engined MD82 aircraft overshot the runway as it tried to take off from Barajas, Madrid’s main international airport. It had aborted an attempt to take off immediately prior to the accident, whilst two recent flights had to be cancelled due to technical failures.
Initial reports suggested that an engine on the left hand side of the aircraft caught fire as the plane headed down the runway, impeding its take-off and sending it swerving off onto a grassy area near the terminal building. The smoke could be seen several kilometres away.
Javier Fernandez Garcia, the flight co-ordinator at Barajas airport, told a Spanish newspaper that unspecified problems had kept the aircraft grounded on two previous occasions.
The disclosure came as investigators began scouring the charred wreckage of the plane for clues to explain the cause of the crash. The black box flight recorder was retrieved from the debris.
It has been confirmed that 19 people - including four Germans, two Swedes, a Chilean and a Colombian - survived the accident, though some remain in a critical condition. The plane was packed mainly with Spanish and German holidaymakers travelling to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. There were 20 children and two babies onboard.
A worker for the airport operator Aena, who saw the wreckage, said the plane had broken up. “The plane is in pieces and it is full of bodies,” he said, according to the El Pa’s website.
The tradegy comes on top of a series of problems for the airline. The credit crisis and record oil prices have tested the airline to the limit, with pilots threatening strike action over pay.
SAS started the airline 20 years ago and currently owns a 94% shareholding. Last year it put Spanair up for sale but was aborted after the airline reported high losses.
This year Iberia was eyeing up the Spanair for a possible takeover but pulled out of talks in May and entered discussions instead with British Airways.