A woman who survived this week's devastating plane crash in Madrid said Saturday the aircraft struggled to gain altitude and one of its wings dipped sharply before the plane started wobbling and went down.
Ligia Palomino Riveros, a 42-year-old Colombian-born Spaniard, also told The Associated Press that after a technical malfunction forced the pilot to abandon a first takeoff attempt, she thought the airline was going to switch planes.
She said two buses were brought in next to the Spanair MD-82 bound for the Canary Islands and she assumed these were to take passengers to another plane. They did not.
Only 19 people survived Wednesday's crash at Madrid's airport, which killed 153 people. Palomino Riveros, who suffered a broken leg and a broken rib, was traveling with her husband Jose Flores, who also survived, and his sister, who died.
Around 50 bodies have been identified so far. Many were burned beyond recognition and forensic teams have been using DNA techniques. Families traveled Saturday to a Madrid cemetery, where the scientific work is being done, to identify their loved ones and take them home.
Palomino Riveros sounded tired and weak as she spoke in a telephone interview from her hospital bed. She said she had heard nothing to suggest that an engine exploded, as some press reports have said.
The plane crashed, burned and largely disintegrated on its second takeoff attempt, after Spanair dealt with what it has called a minor problem in an air temperature gauge near the cockpit. The problem was detected while the plane was taxiing, and the aircraft returned to the gate.
As the plane took off a second time down the runway, Palomino Riveros recalls it "was moving very slowly" but eventually it became airborne.
"But then it made a turn, as if the wing dropped abruptly," she said. "We were still very low, very close to the ground."
As the plane got higher, it began to "wobble from side to side," she said, describing this as the last thing she remembers before the crash.
An emergency medical worker herself, Palomino Riveros said she lost consciousness, then woke up on the ground after hearing an explosion.
She was so disoriented she thought a dead man nearby was her husband. She shouted "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" at him before realizing it was a different man, thanks to his watch and T-shirt.
She recalled firefighters and rescue workers picking through the wreckage, giving instructions and shouting out when they found someone alive.
"And then the wind shifted and I felt how the smoke was burning me," she said.
Police and crash investigators on Friday questioned the mechanic who carried out the procedure and cleared the plane for takeoff.
Spanish newspapers have reported that after the air gauge malfunction was announced to passengers, some said they wanted to get off the plane but the cabin crew would not let them. However, Palomino Riveros said, except for one man apparently angry over the delay, she did not notice a lot of people eager to disembark.
Spanair has described the malfunction as a minor glitch that was handled by essentially turning the device off because it was not an absolutely essential piece of equipment. It says this is accepted procedure and the malfunction had nothing to do with the crash.
But Spain's civil aviation chief, Manuel Bautista, told The AP on Friday that the breakdown requires further study. He said, depending on what else was happening to the plane right then, it might conceivably have played some role in the disaster.
A combination of failures likely caused the crash, he said.
Palomino Riveros said after the pilot announced the problem had been dealt with, people seemed to relax, herself included. Before that, though, when she first saw the buses, she expected the plane to be evacuated.
"I thought that if there was something wrong, the right thing to do is switch planes. I told my husband they should put us on another plane," she said.
Associated Press writer Daniel Woolls also contributed to this story from Madrid.