MADRID: A firefighter who helped rescue the only three children to survive the Spanish airliner crash that killed 153 people has been hailed as a hero.
Francisco Martinez told reporters that when he arrived at the crash, the mother of one of the children, 41-year-old Amalia Filloy, told him to rescue her daughter, Maria. Ms Filloy did not survive.
“Her mother handed her to us … and the woman stayed behind. There were too few firefighters at the beginning,” he told reporters after visiting Maria, 11, who has a broken leg, at a Madrid hospital. “The girl was totally disoriented, she did not complain or talk despite the great number of serious injuries which she had,” he told Spanish radio on Thursday.
Mr Martinez also plucked two boys, aged six and eight, from the wreckage of the Spanair plane, which burst into flames after slamming into a wooded area near Madrid’s Barajas airport during its second attempt to take off.
He said one of the rescued boys “kept asking me if it was true what was happening. He thought it was a film and he kept asking where was his father and when the film would end.”
The daily newspaper El Mundo wrote in its online edition: “This fireman has become, perhaps without intending to, the hero of the day.”
Only 16 other passengers on the flight to the Canary Islands survived, making it Spain’s worst aviation accident in 25 years. Many of the victims were travelling there for a family holiday. At least 22 on board were children, including two infants.
The earlier take-off was aborted when a gauge indicated overheated air was entering the aircraft. One of the passengers, Ruben Santana Mateo, tried to get off the plane. He sent his wife, Maria, a text message, reading: “My love, there’s a problem with the plane.”
She rang him and told him to leave the plane, but he is said to have told her, “They won’t let me off”, and that the cabin crew made him get back in his seat. He died in the crash.
Spain’s Development Minister, Magdalena Alvarez, said 39 bodies had been identified, but the process could take several days because forensic teams were relying on DNA to help make identifications. Officials said many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
One survivor, Ligia Palomino, 41, told of the heaving, hellish final minutes of the MD-82’s flight. “The plane was rocking back and forth, until I suspected it was going to fall,” said Ms Palomino, herself an emergency rescue worker.
Spanair officials refused to speculate on the cause of the crash. The company said it did not know if the earlier gauge problem had anything to do with the accident, but aviation experts interviewed by Associated Press said it was unlikely such a minor problem could bring down a modern plane.
An airline spokesman, Javier Mendoza, said an air intake gauge under the cockpit had detected overheating while the jetliner was taxiing, causing the plane to turn back. Technicians corrected the problem by essentially turning the gauge off.
(Taken from The Sydney Morning Herald)