A Boeing jet with 143 people on board from the US outpost at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, slid off a runway into a shallow river in Jacksonville, Florida, on Friday while trying to land at a military base there during a thunderstorm, injuring 21 people.
There were no reports of fatalities or critical injuries. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter that all 21 of the injured were taken to a hospital, where they were listed in good condition.
A passenger on the plane, lawyer Cheryl Bormann, told CNN the flight, which had been four hours late in departing, made a “really hard landing” in Jacksonville amid thunder and lightning.
“We came down, the plane literally hit the ground and bounced. It was clear the pilot did not have total control of the plane. It bounced again,” she said, adding that the experience was “terrifying”.
Bormann said she hit her head on a plastic tray on the seat in front of her as the plane veered sideways and off the runway. “We were in the water, we couldn’t tell where we were, whether it was a river or an ocean.”
The military base is on the west bank of the St Johns River about 13km (eight miles) south of central Jacksonville, in the northeastern corner of Florida about 560km (350 miles) north of Miami.
Bormann described emerging from the plane onto the wing as oxygen masks deployed and smelling jet fuel she said seemed to be leaking into the water.
Bormann, from Chicago, said most of the passengers were connected to the military and helped each other out of their seats and onto a wing, where they were helped after some time into a raft.
Miami Air International is a charter airline operating a fleet of the Boeing 737-800 – different from the 737 MAX 8 aircraft that has been grounded following two fatal crashes.
The charter company is contracted by the military for its twice-weekly “rotator” round trip service between the US mainland and Guantanamo Bay, said Bill Dougherty, a spokesman for the Jacksonville base.
It flies every Tuesday and Friday from the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to the Jacksonville air station and on to Cuba. It then flies back to Virginia with a stop again at Jacksonville, he said.
The rotator service typically flies military personnel, family members, contractors and other civilians travelling from the United States to Guantanamo Bay. But officials said the mix of civilians and military personnel on the plane that crash-landed was not immediately known.
Meanwhile, US federal investigators have begun to piece together what caused a military aircraft carrying 143 people and at least four pets to slide off a US Navy runway in Jacksonville, Florida, and crash into a river Friday night (Saturday NZT).
Everyone aboard escaped with minor injuries at worst, but authorities reportedly presume pets aboard the Boeing 737 to be dead.
Miami Air International Flight 293 departed from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and experienced a rough landing at Naval Air Station at about 9.50pm (local time)
“Many people are asking about the pets aboard the aircraft. … Unfortunately, they have not been retrieved yet due to safety issues with the aircraft,” a US Navy spokesperson said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Our hearts and prayers go out to those pet owners during this terrible incident.”