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Soccer Team’s Plane Crash Lands

March 31, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ The Leeds United soccer team narrowly averted a disaster Tuesday when its chartered plane crash-landed after its right engine caught fire shortly after takeoff.

The two-engine British Aerospace 748 aircraft, which had only climbed 150 feet, overshot the runway as it touched down and the nose wheel collapsed as the craft came to a stop about 300 feet from the perimeter fence.

``It was frightening afterwards, but it seemed a little unreal sitting there with the engine burning, crash-landing and then having to get out,″ said Leeds defender Norman Hunter, a former member of the English international team. ``It is an experience I do not want to go through again.″

The only member of the Leeds party to be injured was assistant manager and former Irish international David O’Leary, who hurt a shoulder opening the emergency exit.

``He had to push a window out and he fell out awkwardly,″ striker Harry Kewell said. ``It was a big scare, and I’m still in a bit of shock, so I don’t want to say too much about it.″

There were 19 players among the 44 passengers taking off for Leeds after the team had lost 3-0 at West Ham Monday night.

``The plane took off and we saw flames coming out of the engine,″ Hunter said. ``But it did not take long from the fire starting to getting off. Not more than two minutes. The pilot did brilliantly.

``When they shut the engine off and we hit the field, I looked and saw petrol or whatever fuel was coming from the engine and got out. I feel fine now and very lucky _ everyone on there should feel exactly the same.″

Apart from O’Leary’s shoulder injury, another passenger had superficial cuts, authorities said. Despite the crash, Leeds said it planned to go ahead with Saturday’s Premier League game against Barnsley.

Norwegian defender Gunner Halle said it was hard to believe what happened.

``Just after we took off, we heard a big bang and saw the flames from the engine on the right-hand side,″ Halle said. ``We were just off the ground.″

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale described the dramatic take off.

``Everyone on board could see the flames and the explosion and everyone seemed to be shouting: `Fire! There’s a fire!′ ″ he said. ``We had just taken off. You know the plane is full of fuel and you just hope you land before it explodes.″

The worst air crash involving a British soccer team was 40 years ago, when eight players for Manchester United were among those killed in a crash at Munich.

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