plane tease
Plane skids off runway into river
01:47 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

When a military charter passenger plane skidded off a runway in Florida and landed in the water Friday, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue units were ready to help.

After all, they had trained for a similar incident that same day with the marine units, the agency tweeted.

The aircraft – carrying 136 passengers and seven crew members – slid into St. Johns River while trying to land, authorities said. It was returning from the Guantanamo Bay military station in Cuba.

“Ironically,” the fire and rescue department tweeted, “our Special Operations team trained for an incident like this today with the marine units.”

Twenty-one people were transported to nearby hospitals in good condition, Jacksonville Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Tom Francis said. They included three children, among them a 3-month-old, Capt. Mike Connor told CNN affiliate WJXT. The baby was kept at a hospital overnight for observation and was released Saturday.

The aircraft overran the right side of the runway at its far end and “impacted a low seawall which was made of loose stones and rocks and stopped in the shallow water of the St. Johns River,” Landsberg said. The plane remained in the water Saturday.

The NTSB is investigating the ungrooved runway and human aspects – including the flight and cabin crews – as well as weather and air-traffic control to determine a cause for the accident.

A “weak tropical disturbance” had created scattered thunderstorms Friday evening across northeastern Florida, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

That weather could be the reason behind “heavy turbulence in the air and a wet runway, leading to the threat of hydroplaning upon landing,” he said.

This aerial photo shows the plane in the river after it skidded off the runway in the background.

Environmental concerns

In a press conference early Saturday, Connor said they were doing everything they could to contain any fuel spills from the plane.

He said a potential spill and its impact on the environment were big concerns.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman told WJXT they were monitoring the situation closely.

“If they see any unusual sheen on the river, or if they see it in wildlife, it can be birds or dolphins, if they appear to be struggling, that’s something to look after and report,” Rinaman told the affiliate, adding that authorities won’t know the full impact on marine life until they know how much fuel may have spilled.

On Saturday, the Naval Air Station Jacksonville posted a photo on social media which showed the plane in the water surrounded by containment and absorbent booms, which are used to control oil spills.

Passengers’ pets in jeopardy

The passengers of the plane were able to climb onto the wings after the hard landing and were rescued by first responders.

But it may be a different story for their pets on board.

Connor said the units responding to the scene concentrated on getting passengers off the plane.

“Our first priority was obviously human life – so that was our immediate focus – getting people to safety,” he said. “I learned that there were pets aboard the aircraft and my heart immediately sank because I’m a pet owner myself and cannot imagine what the pet owners were going through.”

At least two cats and a dog were in the cargo hold, WJXT reported.

First responders looked inside the cargo bay and did not hear any animal noises or see any animal crates or pet carriers above the water line, Connor said.