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Air France Flight 358 Skids off Runway in Toronto

Aired August 2, 2005 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And this is video that was shot a while ago, and it's now just after 6:00 p.m. on the East Coast. This occurred, this crash, just after 4:00 p.m. in Toronto at Pearson International Airport, this Air France Flight 358, scheduled to land at 4:12.
It was coming in just after 4:00 from Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, landing with what we're told perhaps as many as 300 passengers and crew members onboard. We don't have a precise number.

Air France not sharing that information with us yet. But we are being told by our affiliate in Toronto, City TV, quoting local authorities, that all the passengers and crew members did manage to escape, and many of them have been taken to local hospitals. Some in better condition than others.

But Miles O'Brien, I want to caution our viewers. As is so often the case in a developing story like this, initial reports can and often are wrong. Let's hold our breath and make sure we get all the precise information before we know for sure what has happened.

The news conference, though, at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority is just starting. Let's listen in.

STEVE SHAW, GREATER TORONTO AIRPORTS AUTHORITY: An A340 was flying in from Charles de Gaulle. It landed on Runway 24, left, and overran that runway by some 200 meters. Emergency services responded immediately, and the passengers were able to be evacuated.

At this stage -- and I can't confirm this, appreciate I can't confirm -- but at this stage, the unconfirmed number is there were 297 passengers onboard and 12 crew members. At this stage -- and again, I can't confirm -- but there are no known fatalities.

At this stage -- and again, I can't confirm -- there have been minor injuries of some 14 passengers. But that, again, is unconfirmed.

The Transportation Safety Board has been notified and obviously coming, and they will lead the investigation. I will not speculate on any of those matters. And that's as far as we have at the moment.

The passengers have been -- are being secured and will be appropriately processed, but that's an ongoing matter at this stage.


SHAW: Minor injuries at this stage, and it's unconfirmed, is something around 14.

QUESTION: Fourteen.

QUESTION: Fourteen?

SHAW: Fourteen - one-four. One-four.

QUESTION: Can you confirm (INAUDIBLE) of the pilot being taken to the hospital for treatment?

SHAW: I can't confirm any of those details at this stage.

QUESTION: Where are they going to?

SHAW: Beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Where are they going to?

SHAW: They go -- they'll be going to the hospitals that we normally relate, that we have an arrangement with. And again, I can get you the details of those hospitals.

QUESTION: Can you describe the conditions, the weather conditions at the time of the incident?

SHAW: I don't want to get into any speculation about it. As you know, we have certainly been under what we call red alert since about 12:20 today, on and off. But there's no -- there's no other comment that I would want to make at this stage.

QUESTION: Steve, can you describe the area where the aircraft came to rest?

SHAW: Yes, I can.

QUESTION: You'll have to stay with the microphone, if you can. And we'll do our best to interpret.

SHAW: It's the southern east-west parallel, and (INAUDIBLE) about 200 meters to the west of that runway.

QUESTION: What was the condition of the aircraft at this point?

SHAW: As you will be able to see from the site, the aircraft has been extensively damaged by fire.

QUESTION: Well, Steve, could you just review for us again, because some of us didn't hear it the first time, just the circumstance? The plane touched down, attempted to make a landing, and then what happened?

SHAW: All we can say is that it overran -- it overshot the runway by some 200 meters.

QUESTION: What difficulties does it pose for you in responding into the ravine area (INAUDIBLE)? SHAW: The airport, as with all other airports, has undertaken extensive emergency service simulations, and we were able to respond very quickly. The first concern, of course, is to secure the passengers and secure the site, and that was done.

QUESTION: Is this not a gullied sort of area, a bit of a valley there at the end of the runway?

SHAW: The Etobicoke Creek does run through this area, yes.

QUESTION: So it's somewhat difficult to get sort of down in there, is it not?

SHAW: I -- we were able to bring out emergency services to the incident.

QUESTION: Had you had forewarning the plane might have been in...


SHAW: I'm sorry. One at a time.

QUESTION: Had you had forewarning the aircraft...

SHAW: I have no knowledge of that. And I wouldn't speculate at this time.

QUESTION: Can you take us through the specific events when the plane arrived and when it caught on fire?

SHAW: As I stated, at 16:03 Eastern Standard Time, it touched down and overshot the runway, came to rest about 200 meters. The emergency services responded immediately. Passengers were evacuated. And then fire broke out. And the plane has been extensively damaged by fire.

QUESTION: And what caused the fire?

QUESTION: How quickly did emergency services get there to the scene?

SHAW: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: How quickly did emergency services get there to the scene?

SHAW: We have standards, and I would imagine they were met very quickly. And I can't tell you any more details.

QUESTION: What's the condition of the aircraft? Is it broken up in any way at all, Steve?

SHAW: I can't comment. I just know that it's been heavily damaged by fire.

QUESTION: What caused the fire? (CROSSTALK)

SHAW: I have no idea. The -- just appreciate that those questions about the cause of the fire and that are to be dealt with through the Transportation Safety Board.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) what extra precautions are there on the ground for this sort of event? Not necessarily (INAUDIBLE). In this bad weather, what changes in the (INAUDIBLE)?

SHAW: Well, it -- we always maintain the appropriate level of service for the emergency services. They're always on call and always appropriate.

QUESTION: You say the fire occurred after the evacuation. That was the way you put it.

SHAW: As far as we know at this stage, the passengers were able to clear the aircraft before the fire broke out. But that, again, is an unconfirmed report.


SHAW: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: What happened with the -- with the inbound and outbound aircraft at Pearson?

SHAW: We have been experiencing red alert for most of the afternoon. I believe that condition is still on. So there have been sort of holds on flights, in any event.


QUESTION: We hear talk about possibly minor injuries here. Would you agree with me that this is miraculous that we don't have a whole bunch of people (INAUDIBLE)? How would you describe that in your words?

SHAW: The -- this airport is a very safe and secure airport, and we plan for these events. We hope they never happen. And the fact that there were -- it was good response and that the passengers were able to be evacuated stands to indicate that our services met the test.

QUESTION: Steve, can you describe what a red alert system is, what happens?

SHAW: Red alert is when our lightning detection system indicates there is lightning. And at that stage, all ground site activity at the airport is stopped. No one aircraft can land or take off. They can't be handled. They can't be -- there's no ground service.

QUESTION: So can you give me a sense then if a plane is approaching, is there a part where that plane is told it can land or it can't land? SHAW: No, that's -- I can't speculate on that. The aircraft -- the airport is operated by Air Canada, and I'm sure they followed all normal procedures.

QUESTION: Is the aircraft still on fire?

SHAW: At this stage, I believe the fire has now been contained and is under control.

QUESTION: So what are normal procedures when a plane is in approach and red alerts are on?

SHAW: No, that's -- the question of a red alert is not that a plane can't land. It's that it can't be handled -- it can't be marshaled. It can't be -- there's no ground site service for it. This is a normal procedure at all major airports, at all airports.

QUESTION: Sorry, can you just be clear what should passengers know who are coming to Pearson now by a plane?

SHAW: Well, clearly, there will be -- there are delays because of the red alert and also because we've -- we've -- while the airport is open, our emergency services are very focused on this, and that will be taken into account with the operation of the airport.

QUESTION: Can you explain again what a red alert in fact is?

SHAW: A red alert is a situation that occurs at an airport when the lightning detection system is activated. It means there's a potential for lightning and thunder. And at that point, there's no ground activity allowed, and so the aircraft have to stand, without being able to be marshaled or unloaded.

QUESTION: So no flights were coming -- I'm sorry, with the vertical (ph) flight traffic, were they ongoing?

SHAW: No, there would be delays. There would be delays.

QUESTION: There were delays.

SHAW: And there have been delays for a good part of the afternoon.

QUESTION: In and out?

SHAW: In and out.


SHAW: There's always -- every flight has an alternative, and that would be directed accordingly.

QUESTION: Steve, you mentioned that the -- it went over the runway by 200 meters. Does that mean it landed 200 meters further down or just went -- overshot... SHAW: I can't say any more than the fact that it overshot the runway by 200 meters. I think that's probably as much as I can say. We will keep you updated, and we're happy to come back in about an hour's time, and perhaps we can confirm some of the factors that I mentioned.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Steve, can you describe one -- just indicate once more (INAUDIBLE) crash. And where is that runway? What numbers are for it?

SHAW: It's 24 left.

QUESTION: And it's north-south runway?

SHAW: East-west runway.

QUESTION: Steve, has anything like this ever happened before? When was the last time a (INAUDIBLE)?

SHAW: There was an earlier incident in the late '70s, I believe.

QUESTION: Similar to this?

SHAW: No, not unlike this, but I couldn't comment further on it.

QUESTION: You said minor injuries. Could you just describe the nature of the injuries?

SHAW: Minor injuries, obviously something that can be treated on site and doesn't require hospitalization, necessarily. But there may be some of that. I can't comment any further.

Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Steve Shaw of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, briefing reporters, briefing all of us on this crash, this Air France Flight 358 that left Paris 1:32 p.m. local time, and it touched down at Pearson International Airport in Toronto at 4:03, but overshot the runway by what Mr. Shaw says was some 200 meters.

All the passengers and crew members, he says, managed to escape before the flames engulfed this Airbus 340. Two hundred ninety-seven passengers onboard, 12 crew members, 309 people onboard altogether. No known fatalities, he says. Fourteen passengers as of this point treated for what he says are minor injuries.

Miles O'Brien, excellent news under these circumstances. I don't think it can get much better given the nature of this disaster.

O'BRIEN: No, it doesn't get better than that, Wolf. It's really extraordinary.

I'm just looking at the schematic of this airport: 24 left, which is the east-west runway at the far southern portion of this airport. It's a 9,000-foot runway. That's plenty of space. But not the longest runway there at that particular airport. The longest one is a little over 11,000 feet.

Who knows whether the runway decision could play into this. Of course a lot of that has to do with the wind, which way the wind is blowing. And that is how the decisions are made by the controllers as to which runway is opened up as the active runway, as they put it.

But it's just an extraordinary series of circumstances, and it will be very interesting to see what led to this problem in braking, in arresting the speed of that airplane as it came in. Did they come in too high and hard? Did coming in too high and hard make matters worse by blowing out tires?

Was there a lightning strike which caused electrical failure which might have taken down some important systems that were crucial to that braking? Was it some combination of all of those things?

And I think if history serves as any guide in all of this, it probably will be a series of things, a combination of things where, Wolf, if you took any one of those factors out, you wouldn't see what you would be seeing today. That's usually how it goes.

It's very seldom you run into a complicated high-tech airliner fly-by-wire system like this one, four engines, all the sophisticated technology. Very -- very unusual to come into a situation where one thing brings it down. It's usually a series of circumstances which lead to what you see here.

It's a complicated scenario. And unfortunately, in the wake of these things, we tend to boil them down into simple concepts here. But the bottom line is, as it progresses -- progresses as the story unfolds, it becomes much more complicated than initially meets the eye -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you have to give the crew extraordinary, extraordinary credit, because the fire balls that we saw, the smoke that we saw, the smoke that we still see, suggested that it was -- it was -- there probably were going to be no survivors. But there was apparently, Miles, a small window before the flames engulfed this Airbus 340, a small window to open those doors, get those chutes, and get all 300 people -- 309 people precisely -- 297 passengers, 12 crew members -- to get off that plane, to run away as quickly as they possibly could before the smoke and fire literally has destroyed what's left of this aircraft.

We have no idea how long that window lasted, but I assume, Miles, it was a very short time to do this incredible work.

But let's bring in an eyewitness, a passenger who was on board the flight. Olivier Dubos is joining us. Olivier, thanks very much for joining us. And we're grateful that you and your fellow passengers and the 12 members of the crew managed to get off this aircraft.

Where were you sitting when this crash occurred?

OLIVIER DUBOS, SURVIVOR FROM FLIGHT 358: Well, I was sitting at the end of the plane, actually the last row, 48-A. And what happened is that the plane was delayed because of the weather. And then when we finally approached the airport, the plane was going really fast. And at one point, before touching ground, there was no more lights in the plane. The plane touched ground, and we felt then that it was going off-road, hitting a ravine. And that's where we saw that was really the end of it.

BLITZER: Olivier, before the plane touched down, before the plane got to Pearson International Airport outside Toronto, were you going through some turbulence, some turbulent weather for some time before you actually began the approach?

DUBOS: We did have some turbulence, but I wouldn't say we had more turbulence than any regular landing with some kind of stormy weather. So nothing -- nothing that told us, you know, stormy weather landing. We were really, really shocked and surprised by the -- by the emergency landing. Nobody expected that.

BLITZER: Did the -- did the crew tell you to get into some sort of emergency landing position before -- before you touched down?

DUBOS: No, at no point we got this kind of message. Again, we were all -- the crew was, I think, as surprised as we were.

We -- when the plane stopped, the crew opened the emergency doors, and then the right side of the plane, there were like not too many -- too much flames -- not too many flames. So we managed to jump and run in the field, really, escaping from the plane, which started to have quite a bit of flames. And there was a bit of fire everywhere.

BLITZER: How long did it take between the time the plane stopped in that little gully about 200 meters off the runway, how much time was there to evacuate, to get off the plane? In other words, when the plane stopped, how quickly did the crew manage to open the doors and get those emergency chutes in place so you could slide down?

DUBOS: It was very, very fast. As soon as the plane stopped, they immediately opened the side of the plane where they couldn't see any flames, and then -- then they said -- they told us to jump. And we all were jumping and running.

BLITZER: And were the passengers calm, or were they screaming? What was it like as everyone was trying to get off that plane?

DUBOS: Yes, I mean, as you can imagine, people were screaming and panicking. And everybody was really stressed. The good thing is that everybody really rushed to the exit emergencies. And everybody was jumping as fast as possible and running everywhere, because our biggest fear, really, was that the plane would blow up at one point.

BLITZER: And then you managed to get off the plane. At what point did you see the fire erupt? How many minutes later did the fire and the smoke really get going?

DUBOS: Well, at one point we -- there were a lot of flames when we left, and then, to be frank with you, we didn't really turn back to see how much the flames were going up, et cetera. We just thought of one thing, which was really running as fast as possible from the plane.

BLITZER: Olivier Dubos is a passenger who survived this crash. Two hundred ninety-seven passengers, we're told, 12 crew members, all 309 people onboard, have survived. No known fatalities, according to Steve Shaw, the Greater Toronto -- of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

Olivier, Miles O'Brien has some questions for you as well.

O'BRIEN: Olivier, so nice of you to talk with us after all you've been through on this day. I'm very curious. It seems to me when the final story is written on this, the flight attendants, the flight crew in the back, are going to be heroes here. Tell me a little bit about what they did to get people out of there in a timely way.

DUBOS: To get the people out of the plane?

O'BRIEN: Yes. How did the flight attendants do their job?

DUBOS: Well, what they did, they went to the emergency exits. They opened them up, and then they asked us to jump.

And it was very, very fast. I mean, I must say, they've been very efficient doing that, because they opened on either the door where they couldn't see any flames at the end of the plane, and then we were just jumping and running. I mean, that was very, very organized. And they were just trying to get people out of the plane as soon as possible.

O'BRIEN: One thing that has kind of struck me and some of my pilot friends as we've been watching this wreckage, it didn't seem as if there was fire that began in the wings, where a lot of the fuel is stored. Did you notice fire in the wings as you got away from the wreckage?

DUBOS: Well, I don't know where was really the fire. All I can tell you is that getting out from the tail of the plane, from the last door, there was still a bit of fire everywhere. On the right -- on the left-hand side of the plane, we could see a lot of flames. And they wouldn't open the door. So now where were the flames coming from? I mean, we don't know. And really, at this moment, you know, you don't think of really looking. You just think of running as fast as possible and getting out of there.

O'BRIEN: A lot of people would be surprised at how quickly you could get out of a situation like this. Let me ask you this. The people who were in the emergency rows, who, you know, really have to participate in order to make this work, did they do their job? Did you get that sense?

DUBOS: Well, yes, because in the emergency rows -- I mean, at the end -- I can only talk only as for end of the plane, where I was sitting. There were two or three stewardesses, and they were really pushing people and letting people jump as fast as possible.

Now, I don't know how it happened. Some people were not that close from the emergency exits. But as far as we know now, everybody managed to escape the plane, to get out of the plane pretty fast.

O'BRIEN: It's supposed to happen within 90 seconds. That's what they aim for as they design these planes and they train the flight crews. Do you think it happened as quickly as a minute and 30 seconds?

DUBOS: I wouldn't be able to tell if it's 90 seconds.


DUBOS: I mean, what I can tell you is that as soon as the plane stopped, and we opened the doors, they were at least very fast, 10, 15 people -- the first group of 10, 15 people running. So it went pretty fast.

O'BRIEN: What a remarkable thing. I suspect you didn't have even really much time to be scared, did you?

DUBOS: Well, we were really scared, actually, when we stopped to roll in the ravine. At that point, because we were like already see -- we could see some flames. And that was where we got really scared.

We couldn't do anything. We were sitting on our seats. And we didn't know if the plane would just blow up and we would have any chance to -- to get out of the plane.

And then when it stopped, that was kind of a relief, because we told ourselves, oh, let's jump now, or let's get out of the -- from the exit doors. And at least we have a chance to make it.

BLITZER: Miles, and Olivier -- Olivier Dubos, a survivor, a passenger aboard this Air France Flight 358. Olivier, stand by for one second.

Our CNN meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, has some additional information on lightning in the area of Pearson International Airport outside of Toronto at the time of this crash. Jacqui, what have you learned?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, our TITAN radar system, what it does, it can estimate the number of lightning strikes. And I took the data back to approximately 4:00.

There you can see Toronto, and you can see the storm all across the area. It's estimated that there were about 65 strikes in the past hour from this one storm.

So that would be about a lightning strike per minute. So there was a lot of lightning in the area. It's also showing a lot of the red colors, which indicates some very heavy downpours.

Also, as we heard earlier, that Environment Canada, which is Canada's version of our National Weather Service, did issue a severe thunderstorm warning at the time. And they were estimating that winds could be as strong as 100 kilometers per hour. That translates to about 62 miles per hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui.

Let me bring back Olivier Dubos, a passenger, a survivor of this crash.

One of your fellow passengers thought the plane had been hit by lightning. Did you ever get that sense, Olivier?

DUBOS: Actually, no. I mean, I don't know if it is possible that the plane got hit by lightning, and then you can't feel it. But what is for sure is that a minute before touching ground, there was no more light in the plane. The light was totally cut off.

BLITZER: The light -- the light was totally cut off before the plane touched the ground, is that what you're saying?

DUBOS: Yes. All the lighting was off in the plane just a minute before we touched ground.

BLITZER: What was the last word that you got from the crew before the crash? Before the plane smashed and the tires smashed onto the runway, and then veered off, overshot the runway, really, by some 200 meters, what was the last thing the crew had told the passengers?

DUBOS: We didn't -- I mean, as far as I can remember, we didn't hear any official announcement. It just -- it was like a big silence just when the plane stopped. We were rushing to the emergency exits.

BLITZER: So, in other words, you didn't get any -- you didn't get any -- you didn't get any advance warning that there was -- there was going to be a serious problem like this?

DUBOS: No, that was true, we didn't get any advance notice.

BLITZER: Olivier, where are you from? What were you doing on this flight?

DUBOS: Oh, I was actually coming back from a week vacation in France. My sister getting married over there. And I was coming back to Toronto where I work.

BLITZER: And so you were just -- you live in Toronto?

DUBOS: I live in Toronto, yes.

BLITZER: And what kind of work do you do?

DUBOS: Sorry?

BLITZER: What kind of work do you do?

DUBOS: Oh, I work for (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Oh, very good. All right. Olivier, if you're going to be kind enough, I would like you to stay with us, because we have more questions to ask you, and we're grateful to you. We're grateful that you survived, that all the passengers apparently survived this crash, as well as the 12 crew members, 309 people on board, according to local authorities, Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

No known fatalities. Minor injuries as described for 14 passengers.

Much more coverage of this crash of Air France Flight 358 right after this quick commercial break.


BLITZER: We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world, and our viewers in Canada as well. For the past two-and-a-half hours, we've been covering the crash of Air France Flight 358, an Airbus 340 that took off from Paris, from Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 1:32 p.m. local time and touched down at 4:03 p.m. Eastern at Pearson International Airport outside Toronto, the busiest airport in Canada.

Overshot the runway by about 200 yards in bad weather, thunderstorms and lightning. Two hundred meters, overshot the runway, and landed in this ditch, in this gully on the outskirts of this airport, not far from a major highway, 401, that runs outside of Pearson International Airport.

According to authorities at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, 297 passengers aboard this Air France flight, 12 crew members, 309 people altogether, no known fatalities. Almost miraculously, no known fatalities. Fourteen minor injuries.

The fire balls that we saw, the smoke that we saw, the wreckage that we saw, the smoke that's still smoldering from this wreckage two- and-a-half hours later belied the fact that there was a window, a small window for the crew to open up the doors, the emergency exits, get those chutes in place, and 300-plus people to escape. With the exception of 14 passengers with what are described as minor injuries, everyone apparently has survived.

Joining us now on the phone, a former Delta flight attendant supervisor, Jennie Ziesenhenne.

And I hope, Jennie, I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly. But if I'm not, you'll fix it.

How do crews get ready? Because as you see what has happened here, you have to give these flight attendants, these crew -- the crew of this Air France flight an enormous amount of credit for saving the lives of all these people.

JENNIE ZIESENHENNE, FMR. DELTA FLIGHT ATTENDANT INSTRUCTOR: Oh, it's an incredible tribute, absolutely, because this is something that flight attendants and pilots train for every year, and you hope never happens. And when something like this happens, your training absolutely kicks in.


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