By Horace Helps
KINGSTON (Reuters) - An American Airlines Boeing 737 carrying more than 150 passengers and crew overshot the runway while landing in torrential rain in Jamaica late on Tuesday, cracking open its fuselage and halting just short of the Caribbean sea, authorities and eyewitnesses said.
Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said none of the 145 passengers and six crew on board Flight AA 331 were killed, but 90 people were taken to local hospitals, where they were treated for broken bones, cuts and bruises, as well as shock.
"The situation is pretty much under control, there have been no fatalities and the injured are being cared for," Vaz told reporters. "So far 90 persons have turned up at hospitals with broken bones, cuts and bruises," he added.
An American Airlines spokeswoman, Andrea Huguely, said at least three people were kept at the hospitals for observation and treatment. Others were treated and released.
"Upon impact, the aircraft hit an embankment when it overran the runway, so the landing gear and the engines detached from the aircraft, as they are designed to do. The left wing tip also broke away from the aircraft," she said.
"The fuselage is intact, but there are cracks in two areas," she added.
PASSENGER REMEMBERS "HUGE THUD"
The cracked, battered fuselage of the airliner, which plowed through an airport fence, across a perimeter road and up over a stone-lined embankment, ended up lying on grass-covered dunes a few meters (feet) short of the sea.
One passenger told a local radio station in Kingston that the flight was "bumpy along the way and the landing was terrible.
"The plane did not seem to be slowing down when it landed. There was a loud sound, then a huge thud and then we started to feel rain coming through the top," he said.
"The plane crashed and broke almost in front of me," another passenger, Naomi Palmer, told the Jamaica Observer.
The exact causes of the accident were being investigated but experts said weather could have been a factor. Heavy rain can reduce visibility and make a jetliner harder to stop.
"You will find a combination of things that caused the aircraft to touch down long or very fast," said Bill Voss, chief executive of the Flight Safety Foundation, a research and advocacy group.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to assist the authorities in Jamaica
Heavy rain and flooding occurred on the Caribbean island, a popular tourist destination, in the last few days. Authorities reported one local child drowned.
The Jamaica incident is the second runway mishap for American this month. On December 13, the wing of an American MD-82 struck the runway in Charlotte, North Carolina, while landing, causing damage to the plane. No one was hurt.
(Additional reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta and Alan Elsner and John Crawley in Washington; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Stacey Joyce)