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153 Die as Vacation Plane Crashes on Madrid Runway

A Spanish tourist jet carrying 173 people broke up in flames on a Madrid runway Wednesday, Aug. 20, killing over 150 people and injuring dozens, officials said.

A Spanair passenger airplane takes off from Bilbao, Spain. A similar Spanair plane swerved off the runway during takeoff at the Barajas airport near Madrid, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

The Spanair passenger plane, similar to this, swerved off the runway during take-off

The flight was a codeshare with Lufthansa and the German carrier said it was investigating whether German passengers were on the holiday flight.

The Spanair MD-82 made an emergency landing just after an attempted take-off from Madrid-Barajas airport heading for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, according to an airport authority spokesman.

Spanish media said one engine caught fire as it took off.

Differing reports of casualties

A helicopter sprays water on the Spanair airliner in Madrid's Barajas airport

The end of the Barajas airport runway was an inferno

Smoke billowed from the wreckage of Flight JK 5022 off the bottom of the runway. Helicopters dropped water to douse the flames of the jet and grassfires caused by the crash.

Madrid airport cancelled departures after the crash and restricted the number of flights arriving.

Regional authorities said 153 people died in the crash -- making it one of the worst air disasters in Europe in recent years.

A spokesman said 15 of those injured were in serious condition. Twenty-five people were lightly injured and 35 had been recorded as having escaped unharmed.

A Spanair spokesman told AFP there were 164 passengers and nine crew on board the MD-82.

SAS, the Scandinavian airline group which owns Spanair, said a special team had been set up in Madrid.

"SAS is doing everything possible to help passengers and next of kin and to assist Spanish authorities."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero interrupted his holiday to go to the scene, his office said.

Spain's second biggest airline in mourning

Smoke rises after Spanair jet crash at Barajas airport, Madrid, Spain

The crash was captured on video by an eye-witness

Spanair released a statement confirming the flight was in an "incident" at Madrid airport but giving no other detail.

"Spanair is doing everything possible to assist the Spanish authorities at this difficult time," it said.

Spanair is Spain's second biggest airline after Iberia. Five passengers on a Spanair flight from Spain's Basque region to Barcelona were injured in an emergency evacuation on January 9, 2006.

The airline was founded in 1986 and says it has carried more than 104 million passengers from about 100 European destinations to Spain since then. It has a fleet of 65 jets.

It is a member of the Star Alliance network but recently proposed shedding almost a quarter of its 4,000 staff because of the fuel price rise crisis and reduced demand.

The airline posted net losses of 41 million euros (62 million dollars) in the first quarter.

SAS shares plunged 6.41 percent on the Stockholm stock exchange after the crash. SAS had put Spanair on the block earlier this year but announced in June that it was abandoning those plans due to the slowdown in the aviation sector.

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