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Investigators sifting through plane wreckage, interviewing witnesses


March 30, 2015   by Aly Thomson - THE CANADIAN PRESS


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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.

Flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been sent to the board’s engineering branch in Ottawa and will undergo a preliminary analysis. (Photo: Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

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.

Related: Air Canada flight slides off Halifax runway; 23 taken to hospital

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.”

-With files from Alison Auld in Halifax