Probe of 737 wreckage nears an end in Jamaica

JUNO BEACH, Fla. — The pilot of an American Airlines jet that overshot the runway in Jamaica said today that he’s happy to be home with his family for the holidays, and praised his crew for their quick thinking and professionalism.

“This is the best Christmas,” Captain Brian Cole said at his South Florida home. “I am just so happy to be home with my family.”

Flight 331 skidded off the runway as it landed in Kingston, Jamaica, in heavy rain Tuesday night, arriving from Washington’s Reagan National Airport by way of Miami. The Boeing 737-800’s fuselage cracked open, the left main landing gear collapsed and the nose was crushed as the plane lurched to a halt at the ocean’s edge.

All 154 people aboard survived. Ninety-two were taken to hospitals, with no injuries considered life-threatening. The U.S. State Department said 76 of the passengers were Americans.

Cole walked away “pretty banged up” with bruises on his forearms, chest and stomach, but no broken bones.

“It’s a testament to the professionalism of American Airlines,” he said. “I have the highest praise for my first officer and eternal gratitude for the way the flight attendants reacted in their professionalism to get all the passengers home to their families, as well.”

Cole spent Christmas with friends and family, and chatted by phone with crew members and flight attendants today as he relaxed at home, thankful that the outcome wasn’t much worse.

He said he could not speak further about the crash, because of the ongoing investigation.

Authorities investigating why the jetliner overshot the runway at Norman Manley International Airport will receive flight data next week that should help establish a cause for the accident that sent dozens to the hospital, an official said today.

The study of the plane’s wreckage will end Sunday, and officials will then review flight data recorder information that is expected in the next few days, said Oscar Derby, director general of Jamaica’s Civil Aviation Authority.

“We are investigating every possible factor,” he said. “We are leaving no stones unturned.”

Work crews planned to remove the jet’s tail late today because it was blocking 900 feet of the runway, limiting it to smaller aircraft, Derby said.

Offshore lights that help guide pilots into Jamaica’s main airport were not working at the time of the accident, but officials said they did not believe that contributed to the crash because pilots had been warned and the runway was fully lit.

The offshore lights have been out for more than a month and are scheduled to be replaced in February, Derby said.

Officials with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board remained in Jamaica helping with the investigation, he said.

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