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At The Most Tense Moment of Takeoff, A Loud Pop _ Then Tragedy

July 7, 1996

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ The pilot of Delta Flight 1288 was telling passengers to prepare for a 40-minute journey as the jet gained momentum for its takeoff.

Seconds later, the MD-88′s left engine blew apart, shearing the plane ``like a can opener,″ and sending pieces of metal into the cabin, killing two people and injuring at least five others.

``We were just gaining enough speed ... when all of a sudden we just heard a loud boom,″ said Paul Kervan of Indianapolis, who was flying with his wife, Kathy, their three children and a babysitter.

``It was a loud pop. But then there was a real intense smell _ a burning. And somebody was really screaming in the back of the plane.″

Some of the 142 passengers didn’t realize the seriousness of what had happened.

``At first I thought it was a blown tire until I saw the engine flying off the runway,″ said Jean Paul Menard, a passenger traveling with his wife and 11-month-old child. ``It was the front part of the engine. I seen the smoke and I just wanted to get my family off of there.″

Some passengers were thinking about the fire aboard ValuJet Flight 592, which plunged into the Everglades on May 11, killing all 110 aboard.

``Everybody was trying to scramble and get out,″ Menard said. ``After that ValuJet thing ... everybody was pretty scared.″

Kervan said people started kicking the doors out and that it was difficult to see. ``There was a such a rush of people coming to the front of the plane,″ he said.

About 35 of the passengers headed down chutes or climbed out on the wing and jumped down. The rest of the passengers exited down the stairs.

``When we finally got out, we looked over there and we saw that the rotary blades out of the jet motor had blown and had sheared the plane just like a can opener,″ said Bill Schmitz of Mission Viejo, Calif.

In the very back of the plane, David Tourtelotte, his wife, Kathleen, and 14-month-old daughter, Emma, barely missed disaster.

Tourtelotte had blood stains on the collar of his white shirt and blood had spattered onto his bare left ankle.

``The woman died instantly,″ he said. ``The engine was right next to us. Something came off the engine and came into the cabin.″

The Tourtelottes’ baby was sheltered by a car seat which was used to strap her into the plane.

``It actually saved her because the debris and everything was hitting all around,″ said Kathleen Tourtelotte.

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