Survivor of jet fire: ‘It was panic'

Abdel-Menem Hassanein remembers the jetliner landing, and then the chaos – the blast of an explosion, the flames at the front of the plane and the screams.

“It was panic,” he said. “People were screaming, shouting God is great and uttering their last prayers.”

The 75-year-old soon realized: The flight attendant at the back of the plane where he and his wife sat could not open the exit door.

“Many things were happening at once. … People rushed toward the only open door at the front,” he said. He hurried there, pushed his wife out the open exit and onto the emergency slide – past the flames – and then followed her.

The couple and more than 170 others escaped the inferno on the Sudan Airways flight Tuesday night that killed at least 30 people.

“If I didn't keep my cool, we both would have been finished,” Hassanein said Wednesday from his home outside Khartoum.

The jet skidded off the runway at Khartoum Airport and rammed into the lights used by pilots to navigate when landing in bad weather, sparking a fire on the aircraft's right side, police spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb said.

The blaze raged for hours, eventually splitting the plane in two, before firefighters put it out.

Thirty people were killed, including one flight attendant; 178 escaped and six people remain unaccounted for, Sudan Airways said.

An investigation into the accident was under way Wednesday. The airport also reopened.

Airbus said it was sending in specialists to help with the inquiry.

It said the plane involved in the accident was 18 years old and had been operated by Sudan Airways since September. Investigators from France were also taking part because the plane was made by France-based Airbus.

Sudan has a poor aviation safety record and has many small airlines that service Africa's largest country. Three years ago, the government said it planned to build a new airport outside of the city center by 2010. It remains in the planning phase.

Hassanein, who was returning from Damascus after a family vacation, said bad weather delayed the flight by three hours. Many children were onboard, returning from vacation.

When the jet landed, “everything was OK. Then all of a sudden, there was a loud sound, maybe an explosion, as if it hit something,” he said. The plane came to a halt and veered to the right before he saw a fire on the right side of the plane.