Cargo plane goes off runway in Halifax, sending four crew to hospital

The airport activated its emergency operations centre and suspended all flights

A 747 cargo plane went off the runway while landing early Wednesday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, leaving a trail of debris and sending four crew to hospital.

Airport spokeswoman Theresa Rath Spicer said the SkyLease Cargo plane skidded off Runway 14 just after 5 a.m., though it wasn’t clear what caused the accident.

“This happened upon landing at 5:15 this morning,” she said in an interview.

She said the four crew on board Flight KKE 4854 were taken to hospital with what she believed to be minor injuries. The airport had initially said five crew had been aboard the plane but later clarified the number.

Emergency Health Services spokesman Remo Zaccagna said two ambulances were sent to the airport, along with a supervisory unit.

“Patients were transported to hospital, but due to privacy laws (we) cannot provide the nature of their injuries,” he said.

The plane was sitting on a slight incline far off the runway and within about 50 metres of a fence that marks the perimeter of the airport boundary. Two of its engines appeared to be attached but were heavily damaged, while two other engines were sheared off completely.

The landing gear was not visible and the nose of the white aircraft sustained moderate damage, but the underside of the plane appeared to be cracked and heavily damaged.

As well, the fuselage appeared to be bent about halfway along the length of the aircraft, where the outer skin was mangled. Mangled debris was scattered behind the plane.

An aluminum ladder trailed from an open main door near the front of the aircraft.

The airport had activated its emergency operations centre and suspended all flights, but the main runway was reopened by 8 a.m.

“We did temporarily close the airfield, so both runways — the one that was impacted by this morning’s incident and also our main runway. We have since reopened our main runway but our flight schedules continue to be impacted,” said Rath Spicer.

She said there were delays in arrivals and departures.

“We’ve had flights diverted and delayed.”

The plane was reported to be travelling from Chicago to Halifax.

Several fire trucks and RCMP vehicles surrounded the damaged plane on what was a warm, misty day.

District chief Gord West said the Halifax fire department responded in an assistance role to the airport’s fire unit.

“We respond with water supply and manpower,” West said. “There are no hydrants on the runways so we use tankers to shuttle water back and forth.”

He confirmed that there was no fire as a result of the crash and that crews had sprayed down the aircraft with foam.

Chris Krepski, spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators were en route to the site and will examine the aircraft and the surrounding terrain, interview possible witnesses and crew members and take possession of the flight data recorders.

No one from SkyLease was immediately available for comment.

In August, Stanfield airport announced SkyLease Cargo was operating two flights a week for First Catch, a Chinese-owned seafood freight forwarding company.

It said SkyLease’s 747-400 aircraft had the capacity to carry up to 120 tonnes of Nova Scotia seafood to China.

A press release said it would make two flights weekly; the inaugural flight from Halifax was greeted with a water cannon salute on arrival in Changsha, the capital of China’s Hunan province.

The new flights are also offered in partnership with locally owned and airport-based Gateway, which performs airport logistics and ground handling services at Halifax Stanfield.

The company wouldn’t comment and said all media inquiries would be handled through the airport authority.

No one was immediately available at First Catch.

It is at least the third serious incident at Stanfield in 15 years.

A passenger plane crashed during a blizzard on March 29, 2015, injuring 25 people. Air Canada Flight 624 bounced into the air and crashed near the runway threshold before careening along the tarmac. Federal investigators blamed approach procedures, poor visibility and lighting.

On Oct. 14, 2004, a British-based MK Airlines 747 went down just beyond the runway during takeoff, killing seven crew members. The Boeing cargo aircraft dragged its tail before breaking up and bursting into flames in a wooded area. No one survived.

A lengthy investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found that crew fatigue and inadequate software training led the crew to enter incorrect information and caused the plane to set the throttles too low for a good takeoff.

The Canadian Press

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