Cargo Plane Splits in Two on Runway Before Takeoff in Belgium

A large cargo plane crashed and broke apart close to a row of houses while trying to abort a takeoff Sunday at Brussels airport, authorities said.

The Boeing 747-200 skidded to a halt in a field at the end of a runway around 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT). Four of the five crew members on board the plane, operated by U.S.-based cargo carrier Kalitta Air, were slightly injured and were hospitalized, said Jan Van der Cruysse, spokesman at Brussels Airport.

"The plane is very seriously damaged," he said.

The aircraft cracked near the tail and by the wings when it slid 325 yards past the end of runway 20. The plane, full of fuel, stopped just five and a half yards from a rail line and 550 yards from houses on the edge of the town of Zaventem.

"I just heard a boom, and then I saw the plane go by the cemetery and the plane seems to be going off, sliding off, and then I heard a second boom, that's all I saw," local resident Johan Schoelink told Associated Press Television.

Rail services to and from the airport were suspended as a safety precaution, but the crash did not affect other flights at the airport, Van der Cruysse said.

Francis Vermeiren, the mayor of the nearby town of Zaventem, said the plane did not catch fire. Vermeiren was coordinating rescue efforts at the airport.

Vermeiren said the pilot told rescue authorities he heard a loud noise while trying to take off, after which he tried to land the plane. Airport officials said it was not clear what had caused the crash. Local news organizations speculated that a tire could have blown during takeoff or the engines could have failed.

Experts planned to examine the aircraft and remove the plane's cockpit voice recorder, or "black box," to find out what caused the crash, officials said.

Firefighters coated the wings of the plane with fire retardant foam because the plane was still full of fuel, the mayor said.

Some of the fuel had leaked from the left wing, but the spill was being contained and cleaned up.

Vermeiren said the plane had been scheduled to fly to Bahrain.

Airport officials said the plane was carrying cargo weighing 76 tons, over half of which was diplomatic mail. Other cargo included a car and batteries.

The plane is owned by Kalitta Air, a cargo carrier based at Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti, Michigan, and it made regular flights from Brussels, officials said. A person who answered the telephone at Kalitta Air on Sunday morning said no one was available to comment.