HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – An Air Canada plane made an "abrupt" landing and skidded off the runway at the Halifax airport in bad weather, and officials said Sunday 23 people were taken to a hospital for observation and treatment of minor injuries.
The airline said Flight AC624, an Airbus 320 that left Toronto late Saturday, had 133 passengers and five crew members. Pictures provided by Canada's Transportation Safety Board showed significant damage to the plane with the nose torn off and what appears to be an engine crumpled under a damaged wing.
Passengers on board the plane said they believe the aircraft hit a power line as it came in to land and described the plane skidding on its belly for some time before it came to a stop. Power went off at the airport, but officials didn't confirm the cause. Passengers said they left the plane immediately but said they were left standing on the tarmac, some in their stocking feet, for more than an hour as they were lashed by wind-whipped snow before buses arrived.
Air Canada said Sunday morning that 18 people who were taken to the hospital had been released. None of the injuries were considered life threatening, the airline said.
The airline, Canada's largest, didn't make anyone available for comment and only issued releases and tweets. Spokeswoman Angela Mah said Air Canada's chief operating officer has arrived at the scene.
Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said the aircraft touched down in stormy conditions at 12:25 AM Sunday.
"It came down pretty hard and then skidded off the runway," Spurway said. He said he didn't know whether runway conditions played a role.
The Halifax region was under a snowfall warning, with an Environment Canada alert saying, "Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow."
Randy Hall and his wife Lianne Clark were on their way home from a Mexican vacation when he said he believes the jet hit a power line before it landed hard on the runway. There were sparks but no fire, he said. "We were just coming in to land and there was a big flash," said Hall. "The plane came down, bang! It jumped up in the air again."
The aircraft skidded for a long time before coming to a stop, said Hall, who is retired. "We were sliding along on our belly," he said.
Hall said the aircraft hit so hard, the landing gear and at least one of the engines were ripped from the plane.
"I was looking out and I saw the landing gear go and I saw an engine go," said Hall.
The couple, who were wrapped in blankets as they spoke, said they saw some people with bloody faces, but it didn't appear that anyone was seriously injured.
Mike Magnus, a businessman who was sitting in the first row on the plane, said the aircraft was at the "furthest tip of the airport" when it stopped. He says he heard that the plane may have clipped a power line that caused the power outage at the airport.
"It was so chaotic at the time. I'm pretty sure the landing gear broke on it. The engine on my side popped off," the 60-year-old said by phone from Halifax.
He added that the snow that covered the runway likely deadened any sparks that may have caused a fire and engulfed the plane.
"The snow caused it and the snow saved it," he said.
Flight tracking site Flightradar24 listed several cancelled flights at the airport Sunday morning.
Magnus said he was fine after being treated for minor injuries to his shoulder and jaw. "I'm safe and that's all that matters. I'm going to have a glass of wine," he said.
The flight crew had told the passengers that conditions at the airport weren't good and they would circle for an hour to see if things improved, he said.
"And then there was a window of visibility and we went for it," said passenger Dominic Stettler, 31, a father of three.
Once he was off the plane, he ran to get safely away from the aircraft.
"I tripped over a big metal object, which must have been one of the components," Stettler recalled. "It was just completely surreal. Parts of the plane were scattered across."
A spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said investigators will likely provide an update Sunday evening.