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FedEx cargo plane crashes, 5 aboard climb to safety

July 31, 1997

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A Federal Express cargo plane crashed as it was coming in for a landing early today, flipping on its back and bursting into flames. The five people aboard managed to escape through a cockpit window.

The crash at Newark International Airport canceled 300 flights and affected about 8,000 customers, but no one on the ground was hurt and the five on board received only minor injuries.

``We’re very thankful that they’re OK. It was pretty much a miracle,″ said Jess Bunn, spokesman for Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx.

The plane hit the runway hard as it descended and flipped over, said Allen Morrison, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport.

With flames spreading around them, the two crew members and three passengers ``were able to climb out a cockpit window to safety,″ Allen said. They pushed open a window _ designed to be used as an escape hatch _ and were out of the plane before rescuers got there a minute later.

``They were very calm, actually,″ said Port Authority Police Detective Dennis Moriarity, one of the first to reach the plane. ``They were a little scratched up, roughed up ... I guess they were a little stunned, but they didn’t seem to be in a panic.″

There was no distress call from the crew or any other warning of a problem before the crash, said Robert Boyle, executive director of the Port Authority.

The same aircraft _ an MD-11 _ was damaged in a ``hard landing″ in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 4, 1994, FedEx and the National Transportation Safety Board said. That accident, in which the plane bounced and struck its tail on the runway, was blamed on crew error. No one was injured, and it was not the same crew involved in today’s crash.

Today’s flight originated in Taipei, Taiwan, then the plane made a stop at the Anchorage International Airport before coming to Newark. The three passengers were ``jump seaters,″ two FedEx employees and one employee of another airline flying on the plane for either business or personal travel, FedEx said.

The crash happened about 1:35 a.m. The airport, the New York City area’s busiest, was shut down for several hours. Two of its three runways were reopened for departures about 7:30 a.m. and the first arrival came in about 9:30 a.m.

``We expect that in the next few hours we will be as close to normal as you could expect,″ Boyle said about 11 a.m.

The wreckage of the plane, lying on its back with its landing gear pointing skyward, continued to burn for hours. A charred engine and wing lay behind the main body of the plane, and a big piece of an engine lay 200 yards away. Firefighting foam covered the smoldering wreckage.

FedEx spokeswoman Shirlee Clark said the plane was carrying 145,000 pounds of freight, including less than 400 pounds of ``routine″ hazardous materials. She had no further details. Boyle said the only possibly hazardous materials that firefighters saw were some pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The crash was the first major accident involving an MD-11 since that model aircraft went into service in November 1990, according to its manufacturer, McDonnell Douglas. The plane was 4 years old, FedEx officials said, adding that it was the first crash in its 25-year history.

Even with the partial reopening of the airport, there were major disruptions at midmorning. At Terminal C, used by Continental Airlines, there were huge lines of people at counters, extending all the way through terminal.

Continental began boarding some flights at 10:30 a.m., and some departures eventually resumed. Spokesman David Messing in Houston said most customers from canceled flights were rescheduled onto later ones and some diverted to other airports in New York and Philadelphia.

``What a way to start the day when you hear about a plane crashing,″ said Joan Warburton, whose flight to Washington was canceled.

The crew members were identified as Capt. Robert Freeman, the pilot, and First Officer Donald Goodin, the co-pilot. Also aboard were FedEx employees Christine Meeker and Phyllis Fair, and a fifth person, an employee of another airline, whose name was not released. No ages or hometowns were immediately available.

Bunn said the five were treated and released at Elizabeth General Medical Center.

He said they were resting ``in the area,″ but would not specify where.

FedEx’s big competitor, United Parcel Service, is facing a midnight strike deadline, and FedEx spokeswoman Sally Davenport said the company’s domestic volume already was up in anticipation of a strike. But she said the plane that crashed would have been no fuller than normal, since it was international cargo.

She said the loss of one aircraft shouldn’t affect operations.

The NTSB sent in a team to investigate the crash.

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