Guyana, Jul 31: The Boeing 737-800 from New York slid off the end of a rainy runway, crashed through a chain-link fence and broke in two half just short of a deep ravine. Yet all 163 people on board were lucky enough to survive.
"We must be the luckiest country and luckiest set of people in the world to escape so lightly," said Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy, who said more than 30 people were taken to the hospital. Only three of those had to be admitted for a broken leg, bumps, cuts and bruises.
Geeta Ramsingh, 41, of Philadelphia, recalled how applause at the arrival quickly "turned to screams." "The plane sped up as if attempting to take off again. It is then that I smelled gas in the cabin and people started to shout and holler," she said.
"I realized that everything was on top of me, people and bags. I was the second to last person to get off that plane in the dark," she said, surrounded by her two young children who had come to the airport to meet her after a brief holiday in the U.S.
"I hit my head on the roof. It was so scary," she said, and described jumping from the wing to the dirt road below as crews with flashlights and beams from fire engines searched for passengers.
"I thought I would have died. I just started to cry," she said.
The plane came to rest off the end of the 7,400-foot (2,200-meter) runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, which sits on a ridge in forested region just south of the oceanfront capital of nearly 300,000 people.
Authorities temporarily closed the Guyana airport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and delaying dozens of flights. The main terminal reopened late Saturday morning to only a couple of small planes, including a LIAT airline bound for Barbados, said Orin Walton, a local representative for the Antigua-based carrier.