I’ve written quite a few posts about flying and I guess I’ve developed quite a cavalier attitude about the whole process. Today, however, the news brings a reminder that the miracle of flight is just that – a miracle. A few hours ago, Air France flight 358 ran off runway 24L at Pearson International Airport here in the Greater Toronto Area. The airport is about 3 miles from where I work and at 4:00 I was outside watching a thunderstorm roll across Mississauga. Three minutes later the Airbus A340 crashed into a ravine at the end of the runway. Remarkably, all 297 passengers and 12 crewmembers evacuated with only minor injuries reported.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve glided to a safe landing on 24L. I’ve landed in the rain and snow and I’ve seen lightning on approach (the last time was just a few weeks ago coming back from Calgary) but never have I touched down in weather conditions like I saw this afternoon. Why they attempted a landing in the jaws of a storm that was throwing 100KM winds and hail bigger than marbles is beyond me and I’m sure that this will be a focus of the investigation. When you look at the video of the crash site, it’s amazing that everyone got out alive and the flightcrew deserves accolades for evacuating the aircraft quickly and efficiently.

Speaking with a pilot friend earlier this evening, he mentioned that the Airbus A330 and A340 have a fuel tank at the rear of the aircraft and it appears that this is what caught fire. Luckily this didn’t happen while people were still on board.

(click to enlarge)

This image, courtesy of Google Maps shows just how close I am to the airport when I’m at work. The dot in the centre is my office and the top left marker shows the end of Runway 24L. We’re actually between the glidepaths when aircraft are landing West to East. Every afternoon we get the “heavies” coming in from Europe and I’ve been on a few of them and watched as our warehouses flashed by. No doubt I’ve seen this particular aircraft a few times over the years. I’m an aviation nut and I love watching them come in. Sadly, this is an airframe that will never fly again.

Here’s a shot of the weather radar taken about 5 minutes before the crash. Pearson International is right in the middle of the red area just under the first “o” in Toronto.

And finally, this terse announcement from Air France’s website:
>Air France flight AF 358, inbound to Toronto from Paris, had an accident while landing at Toronto Pearson Airport.
The aircraft, an Airbus A340, carried 297 passengers and 12 crew members. Everyone on board the jet was able to get off the plane. There are no victims. 22 passengers suffering minor injuries are treated at area hospitals.

UPDATE: I’m listening to Approach Control at Pearson on LiveATC.net and 24L is still closed and the controllers are having a hell of a time managing the flights. They were expecting to open the runway at around 9PM but they’re still holding a number of flights. Some are coming in on 23, which is at the North end of the airport, but the traffic is heavy. Complicating things, all rescue equipment is still at the crash scene.

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