Investigations into the crash of American Airlines Flight 331 have begun in earnest. Since the crash, police and military personnel have stood guard over the ill-fated aircraft as curious onlookers visited the scene and marveled at what many felt was the hand of God at work.
Like many Jamaicans, I visited the site today out of curiosity and a deep need to capture a bit of aviation history on camera. This is perhaps the very first airplane disaster in Jamaica’s history involving a large commercial airliner. There have been crashes before, like the one many years ago where the son of a family friend crashed into the side of a mountain while flying his cessna in bad weather. This latest one is the first of its kind for us.
A high-ranking policeman on duty told me that he felt that it was an act of God that protected the folks aboard this plane. If it had been going any faster, it would have ended up in the unforgiving Caribbean Sea, and there would have been fatalities. Had the plane been going any slower, it would have come to a halt in the middle of the road, stranding residents who lived just miles down the road on a peninsula. When I drove along the main road, I could see the back end of the plane; it lay parallel to the edge of the road.
The policeman told me that once the Civil Aviation Authorities in Jamaica have completed their investigation, the plane would become scrap metal. At the moment large airliners, like those used by Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are being re-routed to the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, the western part of Jamaica, and passengers are then ferried back to Kingston. That’s because the tail of the wreckage obstructs the view of these incoming large jets.
It was an eerie experience standing beside what to me represents one of man’s highest achievements. That science and engineering feat laying broken and useless like a beached whale. The plane’s fuselage broke in three pieces, each one bending in the opposite direction to the other, with the front of the plane almost on its side making it resemble a derailed train. Both wing tips were broken, and the nose was mashed in, probably caused when it ploughed though the airport’s perimeter fence. The right engine had fallen off and lay a mangled mess beside the plane and the landing gear had collapsed.
We all shook our heads in disbelief that folks actually walked away alive and that the plane didn’t ignite with all the jet fuel that leaked out. This was truly a Christmas miracle.
The sun sets behind the downed airliner. Just off to the right of the photograph are tents that shelter the investigators and work crew from the tropical sun. Click here for more pictures.