Wednesday, August 3, 2005; 2:30 PM
An Air France passenger jetliner carrying 309 people skidded off a runway and burst into flames Tuesday afternoon while landing in Toronto during a dangerous thunderstorm -- yet no one died in the crash.
Passengers described chaos as the plane rolled at least 200 yards off the end of the runway into a wooded ravine at 4:03 p.m. The fuselage cracked, flames shot into the air and passengers screamed as the 12-member flight crew threw open emergency doors and laid down slides within seconds. Hundreds of passengers could be seen jumping and running even as fire and thick clouds of black billowed from the airplane.
Lauren Langille was on that plane and was online Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss her experience as one of the survivors.
Read the story:
A transcript follows.
washingtonpost.com: Lauren Langille will be along soon. Please stay with us.
washingtonpost.com: Obviously there's been a delay in the discussion. We are attempting to get through to Lauren. We will advise.
washngtonpost.com: Lauren Langille, thank you for being with us today. A traumatic experience. Would you please give us your account of what happened yesterday on the runway at Pearson International Airport in Toronto?;
Lauren Langille: The wheels landed on the runway. Everyone applauded because we thought we were all safe. But then there was a bit of turbulence. We started bouncing a bit and it got violently worse and we were were bouncing in our seats. All you could see was orange flames outside the window. Everyone was screaming. And then we crashed and it came to a stop.
Then everyone kind of jumped out of the seats when the plane stopped and then we were told to start exiting from the back. Everyone was panicking because we weren't moving; we were waiting for the door to be opened. Then it was opened and the raft was let out and at that point everyone started jumping out onto the raft and sliding down. We got outside and it was pouring rain. You were drenched. And then you looked to the left and saw that where the wing was attached to the airplane was just covered in smoke and flames.
Then we had to go up the hill that we came down. It was hard because of the rain; it was slippery. There was lightning and you thought the plane was going to blow up. People were falling and everyone was working together pulling people back up.
Then we finally got to the back road to safety and then we all piled into a mini-transport truck and then there was a little explosion on the plane and the truck we were in started filling with black smoke so we had to evacuate the truck. When we came out of the truck the whole plane was engulfed in flames and black smoke.
We were about 100 meters away from the plane. Then there were three coach buses waiting for us and we all got in. That's when people started calling their families.
Washington, D.C.: Did you notice fellow passengers videotaping or photographing the drama?
Lauren Langille: I noticed many taking pictures from on the bus -- not the plane.
Washington Glad you're all safe.
When did you first perceive a problem with the landing? Did it seem normal to you at first? Did you notice the lights going out as other passengers have reported and, if so, was this before or after landing?
Lauren Langille: It seemed normal at first when the wheels reached the runway but we started bouncing a bit and it still felt normal. But then it started vigorously bouncing and then people started to scream and you could see flames out your window and you could feel the heat from the fire inside the plane.
Toronto, Canada: Ms. Langille, I am interested to know how long it took the authorities to notify your family that you were safe. It must have been terrible for them not to know what was happening.
Laura Langille: I don't think they did know what was happening because I called my mother on someone's cell phone and I left a message and she said that she didn't get my message until an hour and a half after I left it. She said she had no clue what was going on and she didn't have much information at all.
Washington, D.C.: It's a miracle that no one was killed and I thank God for that! Do you think this experience will turn you off from air travel in the future, or do you feel safe knowing these incidents are so rare?
Lauren Langille: I'm going to take an airplane again. I'll be scared but the way I see it in life, from one bad experience you can't let it ruin the rest of what you want to do in life. I want to travel and I'm going to build up the courage to get on a plane again.
Maryland : Weren't you on Washington's WMAL radio this morning? How did you get to be so accessible to the media? Do you normally pay attention to the safety instructions given before takeoff?
Lauren Langille: Yes, I was.
I gave my number to a couple stations in Toronto and I guess it just got around.
I did listen to the safety instructions.
Washington, D.C.: Just wondering, did anyone reach for their carry-ons in the overhead bins, or did they leave everything behind and rush for the doors?
Lauren Langille: Because we were waiting for the door to be opened, people just started grabbing their bags in the overheads. I myself grabbed my bag because I had all my roles of film from my month-long trip to France.
Alexandria, Va.: Lauren,
Could you tell me your experience inside the flight when all this was happening. How was the atmosphere? were people panicking or were they calm. How were the crew members?
Every time during flying, I see the crew going over then emergency procedures. I guess it is good to pay attention because you will never know when you need to need to follow it.
Lauren Langille: The only time that there was a lot of screaming was when the plane was still moving and bouncing. And then when it stopped, everyone jumped out of their seats and it was a much calmer atmosphere but there were some people who were in hysterics. The people around me that were in hysterics ... I hugged them and then told everything was going to be okay and I tried to be really strong about the situation and at that point I decided I was going to be a survivor and I wasn't going to let this take away my life.
For the flight attendants, they were fantastic. They got everyone to safety real quickly and they made sure all the passengers were safe before themselves.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Were you traveling alone? Were you able to reassure relatives of your safety before news of the crash was announced?
Lauren Langille: I was doing a student exchange so my partner from France was traveling with me.
I left a message on my mother's cell phone but she found out all about what had happened on the news before she got my message.
Washington, D.C.: Do the passengers have attorneys representing them yet? It seems the airline would be happy that their excellent flight crews saved everyone, but it still sounds like a very harrowing experience.
Lauren Langille: I don't know anything about that.
Phoenix, Ariz.: Was the bouncing front to back, or left to right?
Lauren Langille: It was kind of everywhere but mostly up and down.
Rockville, Md.: Why were people applauding when the plane first touched down? Was it because there was already a sense that the plane was in some sort of danger?
Lauren Langille: We had no clue that the plane was in danger. We thought that we landed safely at that point.
Maryland: Were all exits used (window and door) or were people funneled toward one area?
Lauren Langille: I'm not exactly sure but a lot of people went to the back because, I think, the middle exits were on fire.
Washington, D.C.: One could watch the highway traffic camera pictures via the Internet. The black smoke seemed to overwhelm everything. Could passengers handle that?
Lauren Langille: The passengers were mostly underneath the smoke so the pictures that you saw, I think they were taken from above ... you couldn't see the same thing. We could see the plane a lot more. It was a totally different view of what we were actually seeing right there.
Wheaton, Md.: What did Air France officials say besides, oops, sorry about that? Did you guys have to give statements to police?
Lauren Langille: No, we didn't give statements to the police. We really didn't know much at all.
Toronto, Canada: Hi Laura
As a fellow Toronto resident, I was so happy that most everyone walked (or ran) away from this tragedy.
What a disgusting question from Washington DC about getting attorneys. You would think that landing a plane in a black downpour and having the plane hit by lightning while you are landing, and making sure that everyone survived would be enough for everyone. Maybe that's just the Canadian in me.
My question is, is your French Exchange partner staying in Toronto? Has this person contacted their relatives back in France?
Lauren Langille: Yes, she's called and talked to her whole family and is e-mailing them right now.
Chantilly, Va.: Once the plane stopped, you said they told you that you would be exiting from the back. Was this announcement shouted by flight attendants, or was it made over the intercom?
Lauren Langille: There were two announcements. The first one was start going to the front and that was by a flight attendant in person -- not over the P.A. system. The second announcement was over the P.A. and it said something like don't worry. There is a fire near the back. Start making your way towards the back and exit through the back doors. Those weren't the exact words but we were behind the flames.
Arlington, Va.: How long would you say the entire incident lasted, from the moment you first touched down until you stopped moving?
Lauren Langille: I think it was only a matter of seconds. It was just so shocking that it's hard to remember exactly how long it took.
New Jersey: This, of course, was the first hull loss of an in-service A340 in its 12 years of service and the first crash in North America since November 12, 2001. Thus demonstrating the prima facie safety of air transportation in general. Still, statistics do little to ameliorate what must be a traumatic psychological dislinkage.
Do you think you have fully assimilated the depth and breadth of your feelings after this harrowing experience or do you believe such knowledge will only come with a fortnight's or so temporal separation from yesterday's events? -- David H.
Lauren Langille: I hasn't sunk in yet. I definitely need more time for it to sink in. I realize what happened but it hasn't sunk in yet.
Anonymous: Was there any indication prior to the landing that there were potential difficult ahead?
Lauren Langille: No, we had no idea that we weren't safe.
Maryland: Would you or could you have done anything differently? I realize you made it out safely but I'm just wondering.
LauraenLangille: No, I wouldn't have done anything differently because I thought of panicking but then I decided to be strong. I had an inspirational teacher, Miss Cottam, and I thought of her and all her inspirational talks and I decided that I was going to be strong and be a survivor and that made me think about not just myself. I wanted to help everyone else as well.
I was helping people. I was hugging people, telling them it was okay. I was helping them off the ravine and I was helping them into the truck and I feel I did the best I could.
Silver Spring, Md.: So you never had the feeling you weren't going to get out? What about your post-disaster thoughts on luck and fate?
Lauren Langille: I tried to block that away. I made the decision that I had too much to live for and I wasn't going to let this take my life.
Arlington, Va.: You seem to be an amazing young woman. Congratulations on your escape, and your courage is inspirational to us all. Thank you.
Lauren Langille: Thank you very much for the beautiful comment. It means a lot.
Lauren Langille: It's a miracle and I'm so happy that everybody survived.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.