Death toll in Madrid plane crash rises to 153 (Lead)

August 21st, 2008 - 8:36 am ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Aug 21 (IANS) With six more survivors succumbing to thier injuries, the death toll in the Spanair plane crash at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport Wednesday rose to 153, Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said in a press conference.The Spanair flight with numbers JK 5022 and LH 2554, heading to Gran Canaria at the height of the vacation season, veered off the Madrid-Barajas airport runway during takeoff, broke apart and burst into flames Wednesday afternoon.

The Boeing MD-82 plane “destroyed in the fiery crackup on a Barajas runway” had tried to take off for Gran Canaria earlier Wednesday, but had returned to the departure gate after a mechanical defect, Alvarez told media persons at the airport, EFE news agency reported Thursday.

Nineteen passengers were being treated in hospitals with severe injuries, including life-threatening burns.

“We know that the airplane returned; the content of the decisions made as a result of this incident might be discerned through the (plane’s) black box and the documentation,” Alvarez told reporters, while Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was standing besides her.

The development minister said the commission investigating the tragedy consists of seven “independent people” who were already in the process of collecting “every kind of evidence” pertaining to the accident.

The panel’s conclusions will be used “both to determine responsibilities (for the crash) and to implement measures so this type of accident does not occur again,” she Alvarez said.

She said the MD-82 had passed its annual inspection in 2007 and that all the plane’s maintenance and safety documents were up to date.

A source at Spanair said the pilot of plane reported prior to the second attempted takeoff that a problem he noted with the plane’s exterior temperature sensor “was repaired according to the procedures established by company technicians.”

The black boxes of the plane have been recovered and will be used to try to find out what caused the most serious aviation accident in Spain in more than two decades.

A judge has taken charge of the investigation and visited the airport, and oversaw the removal of bodies, judicial officials told EFE.

The bodies of the victims were taken to a fairground near the airport, where police investigators and coroner’s office personnel were trying to identify them.

Prime Minister Zapatero and members of his cabinet cut short their vacations and returned to Madrid after learning of the crash.

A state of emergence was declared soon after the crash at Barajas airport, one of the busiest airports in Europe due to its role as a hub for flights to Latin America.

Many family members went to the airport when they heard about the accident, and a special room staffed by psychologists and aviation officials has been set aside.

But painful scenes unfolded there as aviation officials were tight-lipped to provide much information about the victims.

A Spanair spokesman said the passenger list would not be released until next of kin had been notified.

Barajas airport had not had a fatal accident since 1983.

On Nov 27, 1983, 181 people were killed when an Avianca Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashed in Mejorada del Campo, near Barajas, while approaching to the airport. Only 11 people survived the crash.

A few days later, on Dec 7, 93 people were killed and 31 injured when an Iberia Boeing 727 and an Aviaco DC-9 collided on the runway.

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