A military-chartered jet carrying 143 people landed hard, then bounced and swerved as the pilot struggled to control it amid thunder and lightning, ultimately skidding off the runway and coming to a crashing halt in a river at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
It meant chaos and terror for passengers in the Boeing 737 as the plane jolted back and forth and oxygen masks deployed, then overhead bins opened, sending contents spilling out.
But authorities said all the people onboard emerged without critical injuries Friday night, lining up on the wings as they waited to be rescued. Only a 3-month-old baby was hospitalized, and that was done out of an abundance of caution, officials said.
“I think it is a miracle,” said Capt. Michael Connor, the base’s commanding officer, hours after the plane landed. “We could be talking about a different story this evening.”
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators Saturday to the crash site in the St. Johns River in north Florida, where the aircraft was still partially submerged in shallow water and its nose cone was sliced off, apparently from the impact. Two pet cats and a dog were still on the plane as well, and their status wasn’t immediately clear.
Rescuers looked in the cargo area after the plane ended up in the river but saw no crates and heard no animal noises. When they returned later, they didn’t see any pet carriers above water, Connor said.