Only one dies in Colombia airliner crash "miracle"
BOGOTA (Reuters) - A Colombian airliner carrying 127 people crashed and broke into pieces while landing on the Caribbean resort island San Andres on Monday during a storm, but only one person died in what police called "a miracle."
Authorities said 114 passengers were hurt in the predawn crash of the Boeing 737 passenger jet operated by local airline Aires, adding that the lone death was due to a heart attack and not injuries from the accident.
A Colombian aviation official said the pilot reported that the plane had been struck by lightning. Witnesses said it was fortunate more people were not killed considering the plane's fuselage cracked into three parts on impact.
"It's a miracle," National Police General Orlando Paez said. "The skill of the pilot kept the plane from sliding off the runway. The engines of the aircraft shut down on impact."
The white, blue and green painted jet was carrying 121 passengers and six crew members on a flight that originated in the Colombian capital Bogota. It was arriving at San Andres when it crashed amid lightning and strong winds.
"The plane arriving from Bogota landed in the middle of an intense electrical storm," Colonel Gustavo Barrero of the Colombia Air Force told reporters.
The injured were taken to local hospitals. Many were later transported to Bogota for further care.
Passenger Amar Fernandez de Barretos, 65, suffered a heart attack just after the accident and died on her way to a local clinic.
"The pilot of the airliner told us it was struck by lighting. We are inspecting the remains of the plane to try to establish what the damages were and what caused the accident," said Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia's aeronautics authority.
Airline Aires is privately owned.
"We were fine until they announced that we were about to land," said passenger Heriberto Rua, who was on his way to San Andres for a vacation with his wife and five daughters.
"Then I felt an impact. My seat was knocked loose but I was able to unbuckle myself and get two of my daughters out."
Colombian Transportation Minister German Cardona told reporters that the plane had been inspected eight days earlier and found to be in good mechanical condition.
"It was a new plane, recently acquired by Aires," he said.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Will Dunham)