HALIFAX – Crews have begun tearing into the mangled Boeing 747 cargo jet that overshot a Halifax runway last week, as gawkers marvelled at the huge wreck – and how close the plane came to breaching the airport’s fence and overrunning a public road.
Dozens of people watched late Sunday afternoon as a backhoe dug into the midsection of the fuselage, which buckled when the empty SkyLease Cargo plane overshot the runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on Wednesday.
“It’s quite a sight – it’s awful close to the road. If it hadn’t stopped where it did, it would be right where we’re parking right now,” said Jayme Newcombe, who came from Milford, N.S., with her partner Jamie Fillmore to show the mangled aircraft to their three-year-old son, Riley, who is fascinated by planes.
“They’re very lucky to walk away from that for sure. A few more feet and they would have gone through some telephone poles and it could have been worse for them. Very lucky to end it the way they did,” said Fillmore.
The four crew members suffered minor injuries and the plane was badly damaged when it slid 210 metres off the end of Runway 14 on Wednesday. Federal investigators said it touched down in rainy conditions while being buffeted by a crosswind with a potential tailwind.
“I’m glad for the crew that it held together, that it basically stayed in roughly one piece – although not in a real healthy way for the plane,” said Oscar Lopez of Halifax, one of the many who braved near-freezing temperatures for a look. “It’s something with that crack in the middle … it’s quite a sight.”
Flight KKE 4854, which had arrived from Chicago just after 5 a.m. Wednesday after a two-and-a-half hour flight, was to be loaded with live lobster destined for China.
As it skidded down a slight, grassy embankment, the plane hit a large localizer antenna, its landing gear collapsed, two of its four engines were torn off and there was a small fire under the tail section _ caused by one of the severed engines.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Saturday that it had released the site, and planned to examine recovered components at its Ottawa lab.
Investigators planned to download and analyze data from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, the TSB said. They planned to talk to witnesses, review control tower audio and radar data, and investigate weather and runway surface conditions as well as records for the aircraft and its pilots.
It also said it would “examine the terrain at the end of the runway at Halifax/Stanfield Airport to determine what role it played in aircraft damage.”
The Halifax airport authority said Saturday it was working with SkyLease as the carrier made plans to remove fuel from the aircraft, which it said was expected to take a number of days.
Late Sunday afternoon, the massive plane remained within a few dozen metres of the fence as crews worked around it.
The operator of a large backhoe would rip at the plane’s mid-section, get out to take a look, and then take another swipe. A smaller backhoe picked up nearby debris, including what appeared to be pieces of airport ground equipment, as people with rakes filled up drums with debris.
“By the looks of the terrain at the end of the runway there, they must have had a real bumpy ride there, that last bit,” said Carl Gates, who drove from Dartmouth for a look with his wife, Lorraine.
“It’s going to take quite a bit to get it out of there,” said Lorraine Gates.
Jordan Reimer drove to the airport from the Annapolis Valley to have a look at the wreck with some friends. He said he had recently damaged his own light aircraft in a windstorm, and sympathized with the pilot.
“A fun thing to see – it’s huge. Was worth the drive all the way out here, definitely,” he said. “I just feel really bad for the pilot. He did not have a good day.”