Denver airport traffic flow ‘normal’ after crash |

Denver airport traffic flow ‘normal’ after crash

Bill Scanlon
Rocky Mountain News
Denver CO Colorado
AP PhotoThe charred right side of the wreckage of a Continental Airlines plane sits in a ravine on Monday, where the plane landed after it veered off a runway while trying to take off from Denver International Airport in Denver late on Saturday.

DENVER, Colorado ” Federal crash investigators said today that Continental Flight 1404’s flight data recorder seems intact and that it will help them discover why the plane skidded off a Denver runway into a snowy ravine.

Runway 34 Right remains shut down, but the other five runways are open, and Denver International Airport’s operations are normal today in the wake of Saturday’s crash that injured 38.

Five of the people aboard the plane remain hospitalized ” one in serious condition, one in fair condition and three in good condition. There were no fatalities, and 33 of the 38 who were hospitalized have been released.

“Traffic flow actually is normal,” DIA spokesman Jeff Green said this morning. “Still, it’s going to be a busy week so give yourself plenty of time at the airport.”

Weather conditions could complicate matters on Tuesday, when forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of snow in metro Denver.

National Transportation Safety Board members plan to brief reporters on the crash at a news conference at 2:30 p.m. today.

Continental Flight 1404 veered left off the runway during takeoff on Saturday at 6:18 p.m. The Boeing 737 plunged down a 40-foot ravine.

It had shed its left engine and both main landing gears and caught fire.

The entire right side of the jet was burned. Melted plastic from overhead compartments dripped onto the seats.

Passengers said they heard a couple of thuds, saw and felt the fire and immediately looked for exits.

Gabriel Trejos has several cuts in his knees, souvenirs of his struggles to save his son from being mashed as the seats on Continental 1404 buckled into each other Saturday evening.

“We both saw the explosion,” said Maria, who was sitting with her husband and their one-year-old in Row 19 on the right side of the plane.

“We were right underneath the crack” that ran across the top of the plane, she said.

“It was like a hot flash, we were in shock,” Maria said. “But even with everything going on, in the back of my mind I knew everything was going to be OK. It was just a gut feeling.”

After a second bump, things started to fall on them, she said. “It wasn’t luggage. I think it was the actual interior of the plane.”

“It was crazy,” Gabriel said. “I was thinking my son was going to be crushed.”

Maria saw the good and bad in people those next few moments.

“At one point, we couldn’t get off the plane because the luggage was in the way,” she said. “Someone was reaching for his luggage to get it out of the bin, and that was delaying us.”

“I had my son in my arms thinking, ‘I hope the plane doesn’t explode.'”

Maria took the baby and headed down the aisle to the back of the plane.

Gabriel finally got loose from the buckled-in seats and yelled to her to head up the aisle.

The line was shorter there, but there was no inflatable slide to help the exit.

Maria took the baby again from her husband.

She said she went out a middle door, jumped about a foot onto the wing.

“I fell off the wing, it was slippery with something,” she said.

She bounded to the ground about three feet down, with her 1-year-old in her arms.

“A lot of people were falling off the wing, I think that’s where people got hurt,” Maria said.

“I just got a bruise on my knee and my back is a little sore,” she said. “My son has cuts on his leg.

“I saw a lot of people hopping over seats trying to get in front of other people.” Maria said. “That was probably the fight-or-flight instinct taking over.”

“But when we all were heading up the hill, people were helping other people.”

Maria called out for something warm for her son and a man immediately took off his shirt and helped her wrap the boy in it.

Gabriel and Maria say they remember a Continental employee announcing at the Denver International gate that the flight might be delayed because of troubles with a turbine.

“The lady said ‘we are trying to fix the rear turbine,'” Maria Trejos said. “People looked at each other and said, ‘I hope they do more than try to fix it,'” Maria said.

Kelly Cripe, spokeswoman for Continental, said “we have no corroboration” that any such announcement was made prior to takeoff. “We checked with the gate agent and there is nothing to indicate anything like that was said.

“I’m not sure if that was something that was overheard from another gate. But that was not something that was said” at Continental 1404’s gate.

Some Continental passengers had mixed feelings about flying just days after the Continental Airline accident at DIA.

“When I saw it on the news and everything, it made me a little jittery,” said Rebecca Goffena, 26, who was flying Continental home to Amsterdam from DIA today after visiting family in Aurora during the holidays.

“But statistically, since (the Saturday accident happened on) my same airline, I think that it’s like a million times less likely that it will happen again to my airline. So I feel a little safer sort of, in a weird, statistical way.”

Airport and airline officials are praising the quick actions of the crew, the response teams and the passengers.

“From the time of the crash, the first responders, the airport rescue crew, on up through the airport guest services group … to the Continental crew moving into action to get those folks off the airplane, to the hundreds who took care of the passengers, they’ve all done a tremendous job,” Green said.

The captain and the first officer both had clean safety records with the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered and sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington for examination. Both recorders appeared to be in good shape.

Denver city aviation manager Kim Day said the plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway, and did not appear to have gotten airborne.

Some passengers have been quoted as saying it felt like the plane had lifted off before slamming back down.

Bill Davis, an assistant Denver fire chief assigned to the airport, said it was a miracle “that everybody survived the impact and the fire.”

DIA is expecting 145,000 passengers to fly in or out today, as Christmas week travel keeps rolling. “The lines will be a little longer than normal,” Green said.

There is plenty of room in the short-term garages ” that’s because people planning to fly somewhere for the entire Christmas week usually opt for the economy lots.

Those lots may fill up by the end of the day, but there is room in the Pikes Peak shuttle lot, and if that gets full, the Mount Elbert overflow lot is wide open.

Green noted that in its first several years of operations, DIA had just five runways.

About four years ago, DIA built Runway 34 Left, which at 16,000 feet is longer than the other five, which stretch 12,000 feet.

Runway 34 Right likely will be closed the rest of the week as National Transportation Safety Board investigators take measurements and look for clues as to why the aircraft crashed.

Some possibilities that likely will be investigated:

Crosswind. The Boeing 737 took off almost straight north, despite the wind blowing in from nearly due west. The crosswind buffeting the plane was at about 31 mph at the time. Gregor noted that no other aircraft opted against taking off due to the wind, which was blowing from the west at 31 mph.

Earlier tests by Boeing indicate that the 737 should be able to withstand crosswinds higher than that.

Typically, pilots like to fly directly into a head wind because it helps lift the wings more quickly.

Braking problem. Any problems with the brakes could have caused the plane to veer to one side.

Blown tire, which also could have caused the plane to veer.

Engine problems. If one of the two engines lost power it could cause the plane to turn on the runway.

Wind shear. A sudden downdraft could have caused the plane to battle not only a crosswind, but suddenly a head wind or a tail wind, making it much more difficult to control the plane at takeoff.

There have been conflicting reports as to whether a lot of passengers took an every-man-for-himself attitude in the scramble to get off the plane, or whether most were cooperative and steely.

“The fact of the severity of the incident with regard to the fire and the fact that everybody made it out alive, I have to think that passengers and crews alike were focused on the safety of everyone,” Green said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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