As federal authorities investigate the hard landing of a US Airways jet in Philadelphia that was supposed to fly to Fort Lauderdale, some of the 149 passengers who evacuated the flight described their frightening experiences Friday.
From a window seat over the wings, Belgian firefighter Peter Frederickx said a few seconds after takeoff, the aircraft "smashed into the runway again, two or three times."
Philadelphia dentist Dennis Fee was sitting in first class and remembered flight attendants' warnings to "keep your head down."
Health-care consultant Christopher Teaney called it a "frightful, scary" experience.
"You realize you have zero control of your life in moments like this," said Teaney, 33, of Fort Lauderdale.
The accident happened about 6:25 p.m. Thursday, when Flight 1702 experienced a blown tire and collapse of the nose gear, and the takeoff was "safely aborted," US Airways said. Two passengers were evaluated at a local hospital and released, the airline said.
Passengers eventually were put on another plane that landed in Fort Lauderdale about 2:30 a.m. Friday.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator was in Philadelphia to assess damage to the aircraft, and the cockpit voice recorder and flight-data recorder were being brought to its Washington, D.C., headquarters, a spokesman said.
Citing the early stages of the investigation, airline and government officials aren't saying whether the plane left the ground before the nose collapse, but passengers said it did.
Frederickx, 36, said that as the plane tried to stop, "there was no announcement. We heard some screaming, then all of a sudden, all becomes very quiet. Everyone is in a little shock. Then after a few seconds, [the screaming] starts again."
He is traveling with the Belgian Fire Observers, which sponsors training tours abroad for professional and volunteer firefighters. He was one of 14 responders from Belgium and the Netherlands who were seated about the cabin.
He said he saw white smoke coming from the engine on his side of the plane, but no flames.
"It smelled like burnt rubber," he said. "As a firefighter, we know how to read some smoke and we knew there was no danger for fire at that moment."
Fee, 47, said he also saw the smoke and smelled burning rubber.
"It was very noisy, there were kids behind us, 7 or 8 years old, with their parents," Fee said. "And they were crying. After we got to a complete stop, the kids were saying, 'I don't want to go to Miami!'"
The pilot ordered an evacuation.
Eric Kofler, 42, also from Belgium, said in an effort to quell the panic they told passengers, "'We are firefighters, we can help.' Some guy said, 'Ladies and children first,' but everybody got up, and they can't get out at first."
Frederickx said, "We tried to calm them down, [told them] it was normal emergency procedure and they would open the gates in a few seconds."
Emergency chutes were extended from both sides of the plane's cabin.
"The stewardesses opened the doors, and they told us to just jump," Fee said.