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Surviving Air France Flight 358


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Three hundred nine people were onboard Air France Flight 358 when it skidded off the runway at Pearson International Airport in Toronto this afternoon. It crashed into a ravine and caught fire. Remarkably no one was killed, and only 14 people suffered minor injuries. The plane, an Airbus 340 coming in from Paris, was landing in a heavy thunderstorm.

BLOCK: Olivier DuBois was a passenger on that Air France plane that crashed today in Toronto.

Mr. DuBois, thanks for joining us.

Mr. OLIVIER DuBOIS (Passenger): Hi. Good evening.

BLOCK: And I understand you're back at home safe and sound.

Mr. DuBOIS: I just arrived home now.

BLOCK: Can you describe for us, please, what happened first as this plane was coming in for the landing and what happened when it went off the runway?

Mr. DuBOIS: Well, the plane was late actually. The captain told us that we would have a 20-minute delay due to the storms, and then when we started the descent, maybe one minute before landing, the lights completely turn off, so there was no more lighting in the plane. Then we touch ground. The plane was actually rolling on the way and then got off road completely, and we thought that that would be the end of it at that point because we could see flames. We were like holding the seats and thinking that that was the end of everything. Then finally, the plane stopped, and the crew opened the emergency doors. We jumped as fast as we could, and there were lots of flames, smoke, etc., around, and we wanted to basically escape the plane's area as fast as we could because we were really scared that the plane would blow up completely.

BLOCK: Where were you sitting?

Mr. DuBOIS: I was sitting on 48A, which is basically the very end of the plane, the last row, so I was the next to an emergency exit and the crew opened the door immediately, and I was one of the first to jump.

BLOCK: And the way you're describing it, this plane was in flames even as you were leaving it.

Mr. DuBOIS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, because actually we--the left side of the plane--we could not open the doors because there were too much flames, so the right side was--we could open the right side, and then we could see some flames a bit around, but still it was possible to jump and run. At that moment, it was raining a lot.

BLOCK: There had been some reports that this plane actually broke apart as it was landing. Could you tell if that was the case?

Mr. DuBOIS: No, we didn't feel it. We were like--no, we didn't feel that. We were concentrating on basically leaving the plane, and we didn't really understand what was going on, and we didn't anticipate at all that we would have to experience an emergency landing.

BLOCK: This must have been just a terrifying thing to go through. Was there a sense of panic among the people on that plane?

Mr. DuBOIS: Yes, definitely. Once the plane stopped, everybody was panicked, stressed and we were just rushing to the exits, and we just were thinking of one thing at that moment is that we have to leave the plane and go and run. And we thought we would really all die when we were off road and when the plane was not stopping and continuing very, very high speed, rolling off road, but then when the plane stopped, we thought that we might have a chance to make it, and that's why we were like rushing to the exits and run as fast as we could.

BLOCK: Once you got off that plane, saw the flames, how did you know where to go?

Mr. DuBOIS: Well, we didn't know where to go at all. I mean, we were just running as far as we could from the plane on the road, and some--actually it was really in the field. My friend who was running with me had like even no shoes; we were like all in panic, and some people that we met on the streets in a car took us and brought us to the airport. And then the emergency teams like the firemen, etc., came quite fast and over there.

BLOCK: When you got to the airport, did you see fellow passengers with any injuries?

Mr. DuBOIS: No, I didn't see people with injuries. But again, I mean, we were running, running as fast as we could from the plane, so I didn't see many people anyway injured. We ended up in a car with three other passengers who were like in our group running the same time as us, and we were all very, very shocked and we were cold, shocked and we just didn't understand what happened and happy to be alive.

BLOCK: Did you get any treatment, and was anybody there to take care of you?

Mr. DuBOIS: They took care--I mean, they took us to an emergency room, they checked that we were OK, and then they let us go home.

BLOCK: And that's where you are now.

Mr. DuBOIS: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. DuBois, I'm very glad that this ended happily for you and the other passengers, and welcome home.

Mr. DuBOIS: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Olivier DuBois was a passenger on the Air France jet that crashed today at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. He spoke with us from his home in Toronto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.