The pilot of Continental Airlines Flight 1404 told investigators the plane was building up speed on takeoff last December when it suddenly veered off a Denver runway as if hit by a "massive gust of wind" or as if the tires had hit a patch of ice, records released Friday show.
"I felt my ass end sliding out from underneath me in a sideward motion," Captain David Butler told National Transportation Safety Board investigators. "The nose was pointing left, and the ass end was pointing the other way without any input on my part.
"My speculation is that we either got a big, nasty gust of wind or that, with the controls we had in, we hit some ice."
The pilot's interview is among evidence made public in the National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the Dec. 20 accident. The board hasn't reached a conclusion yet on the probable cause of the accident.
Winds were reported at about 31 mph just before takeoff. The flight's co-pilot estimated the plane was traveling at about 100 mph when it suddenly changed direction and ran off a runway at Denver International Airport.
Aviation safety experts have suggested that a powerful crosswind may have weather-vaned the Boeing 737-500, a phenomenon in which wind pushes an airliner's tail hard enough to swing its nose into the wind, like a weather vane.
The plane carrying 110 passengers rumbled across a frozen field before it broke apart and caught fire. Thirty-seven people were injured.