The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says an Air Canada plane that crashed at the Halifax Airport touched down more than 300 metres before arriving at the runway and hit an antenna array on the ground.

TSB investigator Mike Cunningham says the antenna array is part of the airport’s landing system.

That impact caused “considerable damage” to the aircraft’s landing gear, and the plane skidded on its belly for another 335 metres.

“They touched down 1,100 feet short of the runway, so I’d say they’re pretty lucky,” Cunningham told reporters Sunday evening.

The plane hit the runway hard at Stanfield International Airport at about 12:45 a.m. local time. Passengers say the aircraft skidded on its belly for about 30 seconds before it came to a halt.

 Other details from the TSB news conference:

•  A power line was severed in the incident.

•  There was extensive damage to the plane.

•  An additional 12-15 investigators will arrive in Halifax Monday, including specialists in engineering and “human performance.”

•  Investigators from France will also join the investigation, including specialists from Airbus.

“Obviously it’s too early to draw any conclusions about this event,” Cunningham said.

“It’s a very great concern to us,” he added. “And we will be putting a maximum effort into determining what happened and of course advancing safety.”

Air Canada's earlier information

Air Canada says 25 shaken passengers and crew were taken to hospital with minor injuries, and all were released Sunday.

Airport spokesperson Peter Spurway hailed the passengers for what he said was a one-minute evacuation from the plane. The airliner says 133 passengers and five crew were on board.

Air Canada tweeted that the plane had "exited" the runway.

Air Canada executive vice president and COO Klaus Goersch said "it was safe to fly in this weather" at a news conference later Sunday.

One passenger said he and others were afraid the plane might catch fire or explode on the runway.

"There was a liquid and it smelled like kerosene," he told CTV Atlantic. "There were sparks and there was smoke, so we were worried about it."

The aircraft left a trail of debris on the runway. Witnesses say one wing and engine were severely damaged, and one of the aircraft's tires came off.

Passengers say they ran away from the wreck and huddled in the cold and the snow for about an hour before emergency crews arrived.

Spurway said the "primary responsibility and priority" for firefighters at the scene was to address the potential danger of fires or explosions on the airplane, before they tended to the passengers.

He said the passengers waited between 40-50 minutes.

"We're not delighted with that," Spurway told CTV News Channel.

One passenger told CTV Atlantic the experience was a "living hell."


The Transport Safety Board of Canada is investigating the cause of the hard landing.

Spurway said the plane's flight crew had the final decision on whether they wanted to land in the snowstorm. He added that investigators will look at all aspects of the situation to determine what happened.

Goersch said he was "greatly relieved" there were no serious injuries in the crash. He acknowledged that the landing could be considered a crash, as the plane did not arrive at the airport gate. Goersch also said Air Canada will "fully co-operate" with investigators.

Both pilots had 15 years of flight experience and no history of crashing, Goersch said. The pilots were among those sent to hospital and later released.

The aircraft involved in the crash was an Airbus A320, the same model as the Germanwings flight that plowed into the French Alps earlier this week, killing all 150 people on board in a deliberate act by the co-pilot.

"The A320 is a very safe airplane," Goersch said.

Goersch said there was no fuel leaking from the plane.


Airline safety worries

Aviation expert Todd Curtis said public tensions are high on the heels of the Germanwings crash, and after another hard landing involving a Delta Airlines flight at Laguardia Airport in New York earlier this month.

"Anything involving an A320 will make everyone's ears perk up when they hear about it," he told CTV News Channel.

Based on the crash scene photos, Curtis said the crash likely involved some kind of landing gear malfunction.

"It looks as though the landing gear either sheared off or retracted and never came down and locked for landing," he said.

"Clearly the aircraft was on its belly, which means it didn't have any of the control that you would get from the braking."

He added that damage to the wings would have prevented the pilots from using wing flaps to slow the vehicle down.

Plane damaged power lines

The plane also damaged power lines in the area as it came down, temporarily interrupting power to the airport.

Passenger Randy Hall says he saw the sparks when the plane hit the lines.

"We were just coming in to land and there was a big flash," he said. "The plane came down, bang! It jumped up in the air again."

Hall said he witnessed the engine being ripped off the side of the plane when it landed.

"I saw the landing gear go and I saw the engine go," he said.

The airport re-opened at about 8 a.m. Sunday, with flights taking off and landing at a secondary runway.

Below is a Canadian Press map showing the location of the airport.