The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators Saturday to the crash site in the St Johns River in north Florida, where the aircraft was still partially submerged in shallow water and its nose cone was sliced off, apparently from the impact.
Members of the 16-person NTSB team recovered the plane’s flight data recorder Saturday.
Investigators will examine the aircraft, the environment and human factors in trying to discover why the plane rolled into the river. The pavement on the runway wasn’t grooved, and Landsberg said grooves can help the water flow off the pavement more quickly. He said investigators will examine what role that may have, with reported heavy rain during the landing.
The flight took off Friday from the US military base in Cuba with 136 passengers and seven crew members. It was a regular charter run by Miami Air International, which has many military contracts, including weekly flights between the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Jacksonville air station as well as Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Among those onboard was Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer, who described the chaotic landing.
The plane «literally hit the ground and then it bounced. It was clear that the pilot did not have complete control of the plane because it bounced some more, it swerved and tilted left and right,» she told CNN. «The pilot was trying to control it but couldn’t, and then all of a sudden it smashed into something.»
Bormann said people weren’t screaming because the flight staff worked quickly to give direction. Everyone onboard helped one another to put on their life vests and then evacuated to safety.
A veteran death-penalty lawyer from Chicago, Bormann has been defending Walid bin Attash, who is charged with helping to train some of the 9/11 hijackers. The US holds 40 men at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. It has been prosecuting some of them by military commissions, including five charged with planning and aiding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their cases have been in the pretrial stage since May 2012 and no trial has been scheduled.
Authorities say everyone onboard the flight was alive and accounted for, but nearly two dozen people sought medical attention.
The passengers were a mix of military personnel and families, and a few civilians. While some were staying in the area, others planned to fly on to other parts of the country, Connor said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what went wrong. Boeing said in a tweet Friday night that it was investigating: «We are aware of an incident in Jacksonville, Fla., and are gathering information.»
Connor said he didn’t know what impact the weather had on the flight. «I was at home when this happened and there were thunderstorms and lightning,» he said.
The plane had been expected to return to Cuba on Saturday to carry other members of the military, lawyers and others to Andrews after this week’s military commission hearings of people charged with war crimes.
It wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take to remove the plane from the river.
«We have challenges because bottom half of fuselage is covered with water,» Landsberg said.
Connor said the landing gear appeared to be resting on the riverbed, making it unlikely for the aircraft to float away. He said crews began working to contain any jet fuel leaks almost immediately after securing the passengers’ safety.