Investigators sifting through plane wreckage, interviewing witnesses

Investigators stand near Air Canada flight AC624 that crashed early Sunday morning during a snowstorm, at Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - Transportation Safety Board investigators were spending most of Monday sifting through debris and documenting the site of an Air Canada flight that crashed Sunday at Halifax's airport.

Mike Cunningham, the regional manager of air investigations, said a team of investigators were looking through debris from the point where the plane touched down at Halifax Stanfield International Airport to where it came to rest.

"The big thing is the teams out on the runway to continue to document the accident site, going right back to the initial impact position and identifying all the major components of wreckage we have between that position and where the aircraft wound up," Cunningham said from the airport Monday.

Cunningham said they have had a preliminary discussion with the flight crew and have also started interviewing passengers.

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been sent to the board's engineering branch in Ottawa and will undergo a preliminary analysis, he added.

"The flight data recorder is going to give us all the factual information about the parameters the aircraft was producing," said Cunningham. "The cockpit voice recorder is merely the conversation that the crew was having."

It's not known yet when the wreckage will be removed from the runway, but Cunningham said it could be before the end of the week.

He said officials with the plane's manufacturer, the France-based Airbus, were scheduled to arrive Monday to help with the investigation and removal of the plane.

Cunningham said flight AC624 touched down about 335 metres short of the runway and hit an antenna array, where the A320 Airbus lost its landing gear, and then slid another 335 metres down the runway on its belly before coming to a stop.

The 133 passengers and five crew members all survived the crash, but some two dozen people were taken to hospital where most were treated and released from hospital.

Halifax airport spokesman Peter Spurway said planes were landing on a secondary runway at the airport on Monday.

The plane damaged some navigational aids on its way down that need repairing, but the airport can operate without them, he said.

Spurway said passengers were waiting on the runway at the airport for up to 50 minutes following the crash in a snowstorm.

"This does not happen often, and we should be grateful for that. At the same time, we do have 138 people who are walking away from an airplane crash. Yes, we can do a better job of anticipating this need, that is to remove people from a distant corner of the airfield," said Spurway, adding that first responders were on the scene within 90 seconds.

"We regret that for sure and we will, in our review, look at how we can respond more quickly."

Here is a timeline of the sequence of events in the crash of Air Canada flight 624 as it landed in Halifax on Sunday:

Saturday, 8:55 p.m. ET

- Air Canada flight 624 is scheduled to leave Toronto for Halifax and arrive at about midnight AT, but passengers say it circles when it arrives because of bad weather.

Sunday, 12:43 a.m. AT

- The Airbus A320 with 133 passengers and five crew members hits an antenna array that was part of the airport's instrument landing system and loses its landing gear.

- The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says a power line is also severed and the airport loses its electricity.

- The plane touches down about 335 metres short of the runway.

- The aircraft skids for another 335 metres on the asphalt, losing one engine and leaving a trail of debris, before it comes to a stop.

- The airport authority says the plane was evacuated within 60 seconds and emergency responders arrive on the scene within 90 seconds.

- Some passengers say it takes more than an hour before they board buses to be taken inside, causing the airport to review its response. The airport says it took 40 to 50 minutes to remove passengers from the scene of the crash.

Sunday, 2:12 a.m. AT

- Nova Scotia Power tweets that it has restored power to the airport.

— With files from Alison Auld in Halifax

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