Running On Empty

A Canadian Air Transat Airbus with suspected fuel trouble made an emergency landing without power on Portugal's Azores islands Friday, slightly injuring nine passengers, authorities said.

CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports the Airbus A-330 took off from Toronto on an overnight trip to Lisbon, Portugal with 304 people on board. Everything was normal as flight 236 cruised six miles above the North Atlantic.

Then two-thirds of the way into the trip, pilots reported an oil leak had forced them to shut down the right engine, and they began planning an emergency landing in the Azores.

Then an even more threatening problem surfaced. Sources say pilots warned controllers the jet was suffering "a heavy fuel loss" and may have "to put down in the sea."

At 30,000 feet and still 20 minutes from land, investigators say the lone remaining engine ran out of fuel.

The jetliner headed for a desperation landing. Passengers donned life jackets as flight attendants tried not to panic.

"We asked if we were going to hit the water and she was telling us they didn't know if we were going to make it or not -- if we were going to be able to make it to the landing strip -- but probably not, that we were going to hit the water," said passenger Joe Fernandez.

The tires exploded and the undercarriage was damaged when the plane landed at 5:46 a.m. local time at Lajes, on the island of Terceira.

Airport personnel put out a fire and the airfield was closed. An emergency spokesman said nine people were slightly injured.

Crash experts are at a loss to explain how a twin engine jet could lose both engines in a matter of minutes. The incident may re-ignite the debate over the safety of flying over the ocean with only two engines.

Montreal-based Air Transat, Canada's biggest charter airline, said in a statement the plane had been in service since 1999.

The airline said it was obviously some kind of mechanical problem and, "we would never leave without enough fuel."

The Azores are a group of nine Portuguese islands about 900 miles west of the mainland.


© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Reuters Limited contributed to this report
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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