Georgetown, Guyana, July 31: A packed airliner carrying 163 people crashed and split in two as it tried to land in the South American country of Guyana.
The Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737 overshot the runway at Georgetown's Cheddi Jagan airport after a flight from New York. Dozens of passengers were injured but no-one was killed, reports said. The front of the plane snapped off and it came to a stop just a short distance from a 200ft ravine.
Reports said around 100 passengers required medical attention, and several others were taken to hospital.
The airline's chairman, George Nicholas, said it was "an absolute miracle" that there were no deaths.
Passengers screamed when the plane lost control and many fled down emergency inflatable slides when it finally came to a stop.
Terror: Passengers struggled to find their way out of the broken fuselage of the Boeing 737-800 in the dark
Horror crash: Rescue workers at the scene this morning after the Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-800 broke in half when it overshot the runway in Guyana
A Caribbean Airlines jet en route from New York crashed in Guyana today and split in two upon hitting the runway, but none of the 163 people on board were killed.
About 100 people received medical attention for injuries, which included broken legs and scratches.
Several passengers are still hospitalized, local officials said. There appears to have been no fire after the crash, allowing passengers to exit the plane safely. People said they scrambled out through the emergency exit and over the wings.
Smashed: The impact was so great that the plane's fuselage broke in half entirely
The plane overshot the 7,400-foot (2,200-meter) runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, crashing through a chain-link airport fence and ending up on a dirt road around the airport.
The plane broke in two just before reaching a 200-foot ravine. There were no emergency vehicles immediately available. It was 1:30 a.m. and dark and rainy outside.
'Terrifying': The plane crash landed in the dark before splitting in two - just short of a 200-foot ravine
Recovery: Emergency workers at the scene of the crash as the sun came up this morning
"The first thing I think of when I see an accident like this is they landed too fast, too long down the runway or they hydroplaned and certainly when there is water on the runway that is one of the principle things you think about," said ABC News aviation consultant John Nance.
One passenger said a taxi driver actually came up and took her to the terminal, but he wanted $20 for the ride.
Incredible escape: The plane crashed when it overshot the runway at Cheddi Jagan airport in Georgetown, Guyana. All those on board survived, and only four people were injured
Guyana's airport remained closed Saturday morning as officials conducted investigations. Local officials have asked the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in the investigation.
The plane was a U.S.-made Boeing 737-800, so the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration are expected to head down to the crash site to assist to try to figure out what went wrong.
Sources in Guyana say they are ruling out weather as a factor in the crash.
The plane's black boxes have been recovered, which will help to figure out the cause of the crash. "Investigators are first going to consider hydroplaning, where you are going so fast on water because it is a wet runway you don't have any breaking effectiveness. This can also be exacerbated by landing too far down the runway or too fast," said Nance.
"No question when you are looking at accidents on the backside of the clock one of the key questions is was the crew tired either directly or cumulatively tired over time. These things can be very important in figuring out exactly what happened," Nance added."We are very, very grateful that more people were not injured," said President Bharrat Jagdeo, who came to the crash site before dawn.
A passenger managed to push open an emergency exit and most managed to clamber out by themselves, but rescuers struggled to free people in the dark as there was no emergency lighting.
Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo said: 'We are very, very thankful and grateful that there are no deaths.'
The country's health minister, Leslie Ramsammy, told French news agency Agence France Presse that one passenger suffered a broken leg while several others walked away with minor bruises.
All of them were taken to a hospital in Georgetown. Flight BW 523 was carrying 157 passengers and six crew, the airline said in a statement.
'I realised that everything was on top of me, people and bags. I was the second to last person to get off that plane in the dark'
Around 100 required medical attention, and four were hospitalised with serious injuries.
Geeta Ramsingh, 41, from Philadelphia, was one of the injured passengers. She was returning home to her native country for only the second time in 30 years.
She said that passengers had just started to applaud the jet's touchdown when it 'turned to screams'.
She escaped the craft by hopping on to the wing and and then on to the dirt track outside the runway fence.
She said: 'I am upset that no one came to rescue us in the dark, but a taxi driver appeared from nowhere and charged me 20 dollars to take me to the terminal.
'I had to pay, but in times of emergencies, you don't charge people for a ride.'
Adis Cambridge, 42, of Guyana, said she felt the thump of a hard landing but did not think much of it until seconds later.
She added: 'I realised that everything was on top of me, people and bags. I was the second to last person to get off that plane in the dark.
'I hit my head on the roof. It was so scary.'
Another passenger, an unnamed woman, told Guyana's Kaieteur News service: 'It was terror. I was praying to Jesus.' She also said her husband opened an emergency door, allowing passengers to escape the craft.
The airport was closed, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and delaying dozens of flights. At first, the authorities struggled to reach passengers due to a lack of lighting and emergency equipment.
Devant Maharaj, transportation minister in Trinidad where Caribbean Airlines is based, said the company is sending a team to Guyana to help investigate the crash.
President Jagdeo has also asked for assistance from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.The crash is the worst in recent history in Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America.
It is one of only a few serious incidents involving the Trinidad-based airline, which is the single largest carrier in the region, operating at least five daily flights.
"It was serious and all the plane practically broke in two, so we should be very grateful for that," said Jagdeo.
This crash is apparently one of the few serious accidents involving Caribbean Airlines, which is based in Trinidad, according to the Associated Press.
Accidents in which planes run off the side or end of a runway are the most common type of runway mishap. About 30 occur every year worldwide, most on landing.
It happened in Jamaica in 2009 and Little Rock Arkansas in 1999, where 11 died. Luckily most of these accidents are not fatal.
The crash happened just after midnight local time as it arrived from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where it had made a stop before continuing its flight to Georgetown.
One woman said simply 'it was terror', while another described how the passengers' applause at the safe landing 'turned to screams' when they released the plane had broken in half.