Continental Plane Goes Off Runway at Denver Airport; 38 Injured

Passengers on a Continental Airlines flight en route to Texas were thrust into a frightening scene as they were forced to evacuate their burning airliner after it veered off a runway into a ravine in Denver Saturday.

Thirty-eight people suffered injuries including broken bones, and two were in critical condition with fractures after the Saturday evening accident at Denver International Airport, officials said.

Denver Fire Division Chief Patrick Hynes described the chaotic scene as “surreal” as his firefighters arrived to see the 106 passengers and crewmembers scrambling to evacuate the fiery crash from emergency chutes.

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The crash caused the overhead luggage bins to disintegrate and drip melted plastic onto passengers' seats and left the entire right side of the plane burned. According to Hynes, the wheels of the Boeing 737 had been sheared off, the fuselage had been left partially buckled and the runway was littered with luggage and debris.

Passenger Mike Wilson of Denver described the desperate attempt to exit the burning plane on from his cell phone.

By the time the plane stopped we were burning pretty well and I think I could feel the heat even through the bulkhead and window," he wrote. "I made for the exit door as quickly as I could, fearing the right wing might explode from the fire. Once out, I scrambled down the wing."

The cause of the crash, which firemen described as “one heck of a firefight,” has yet to be determined. The flames smoldered until about 9:30 p.m.

Although the weather was cold and windy, it did not appear to be the cause of the crash. A local meteorologist described the conditions as “pretty normal” and what had been going on all afternoon.

The plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and did not appear to have gotten airborne, Day said. Debris was scattered on the runway, with the plane about 200 yards away.

Three of the airport's six runways were closed Sunday, according to its Web site. Manager of aviation Kim Day said travelers should expect delays.

Region National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were on the scene and a team of senior NTSB investigators was en route, officials said.

The airport has a strong safety record, according to the Denver Post, and has only had one airplane-related fatality in 2001 when a 24-year-old man was killed by a fireball as he refueled a Boeing 777.

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Click here for a report from the Denver Post.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.