Crew's calm saved lives, passengers say

By wire services
Published August 3, 2005

Somehow, amid the screams of panicked passengers, the crew of Air France Flight 358 did what they were trained to do Tuesday - and saved the lives of 309 people.

Passengers who escaped from the crash credited the flight crew with an "organized" evacuation despite people on the plane "screaming and panicking."

"We were really, really shocked by the emergency landing. Nobody expected that," passenger Olivier Dubois told CNN. "I think the crew was as surprised as we were."

Gwen Dunlop, a Toronto resident who was on the flight returning from vacation in France, said when the plane first touched down the passengers believed they had landed safely and clapped with relief.

"Only seconds later, it started really moving and obviously it wasn't okay," Dunlop said. "At some point the wing was off. The oxygen masks never came down; the plane was filling up with smoke."

She said one of the flight attendants tried to calm passengers and tell them that everything was fine.

"One of the hostesses said, "You can calm down, it's okay,' and yet the plane was on fire and smoke was pouring in," Dunlop said.

Dubois, who was returning from his sister's wedding in France, said the flight crew reacted quickly to open emergency doors despite the surprise.

"They immediately opened the side of the plane where they couldn't see any flames, and then they told us to jump," he said. "That was very, very organized. They were just trying to get people out of the plane as soon as possible."

There was no time to spare.

Just moments after the crash, a portion of the plane's wing could be seen jutting from the trees as smoke and flames poured from the middle of its broken fuselage.

"We managed to jump and run in the field," Dubois said. "There was a bit of fire everywhere."

Roel Bramer, who was traveling with Dubois, said he was the second person off the plane. He said he used an escape chute to get out.

"When I got to the bottom of the chute and looked around and saw the flames, I only thought of one thing: to just get out of there as fast as possible," he said. "I just ran like crazy through the fields."

Before reaching the ground, Dubois said, the flight seemed relatively normal.

"We did have some turbulence, but I wouldn't say we had more turbulence than any regular landing with some kind of stormy weather," he said.

Bramer, however, said the plane appeared to lose power as it reached the runway.

"I saw lightning. Just as we landed, the lights turned off and that's unusual," he said.

Rayed Hantash said his brother, 25-year-old Mohammed Hantash, was on the flight and called him on his cell phone after the crash to tell him he was fine.

"As the plane stopped, they jumped off and made their way across to the highway," Hantash said. "I'm going to give him a good hug and good kiss and take him home."

Information from the Associated Press, CNN and the Toronto Globe and Mail was used in this report.