Air France Chairman Praises Crew of Crashed Jet

ROISSY, France (AP) -- Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta on Wednesday praised the crew of a jetliner that crash-landed in Canada and burst into flames but, remarkably, claimed no victims.

''I want to pay homage to the crew,'' Spinetta said at a news conference at Air France headquarters. ''I don't know if we should speak of a miracle, but we can certainly speak of the training of the crew, above all the professionalism of the crew.''

All 309 people aboard Air France Flight 358 evacuated the plane moments before it burst into flames after skidding off a runway at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Tuesday. Air France said 22 people were injured, while Toronto airport officials said 43 were hurt.

Spinetta said it was too early to determine the cause of the crash but promised that Air France would be ''totally transparent'' in follow-up inquiries.

The co-pilot said the plane had sufficient fuel and that the runway was long enough, he added, noting that the co-pilot conducted a thorough search of the plane to assure no passengers remained before he evacuated.

''What is certain is that the weather was very difficult,'' Spinetta said.

The plane skidded onto the landing strip under pouring rain, lightning and thunder. Toronto airport officials said the airport had been under a ''red alert,'' which indicates potential for lightning, but does not prevent planes from landing or taking off.

The crash was the first for an Airbus A340 in its 13 years of commercial service.

Spinetta said Air France bought the aircraft new on Sept. 7, 1999. It was last serviced on July 5, and had logged 28,418 flight-hours and 3,711 takeoffs and landings, he said.

The 12-person crew was ''very experienced,'' Spinetta said, noting that plane's co-pilot, who was in charge of landing, had 10,700 hours of flying time. The 57-year-old pilot had flown 15,000 hours prior to the flight, he said.

Shares in Air France-KLM were down 1.6 percent at euro13.51 (US$16.51) in early afternoon Paris trading, while Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. was 0.3 percent higher at euro27.77 (US$33.93).

Spinetta said passengers would be compensated for all the ''physical, moral and material damage'' they had suffered. He did not specify an amount.

Spinetta left shortly after the Wednesday news conference for Toronto, accompanied by two dozen Air France officials, including a medical team and a psychologist.

A separate team of experts headed to Toronto earlier Wednesday, including six from Airbus, three from the French accident investigation bureau and three from Air France, he said.

French newspapers hailed the happy ending of the crash.

''The miracle of the Air France Airbus,'' read the front page of Le Parisien daily.

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