HOUSTON—A Boeing 767 cargo jetliner heading to Houston with three people aboard disintegrated after crashing Saturday, Feb. 23, into a bay east of the city, according to a Texas sheriff.
Witnesses told emergency personnel that the twin-engine plane “went in nose first,” leaving a debris field three-quarters of a mile long in Trinity Bay, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said.
“It’s probably a crash that nobody would survive,” he said, referring to the scene as “total devastation.”
— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) February 23, 2019
The cargo plane made a steep descent shortly before 12:45 p.m. from 6,525 feet to 3,025 feet in 30 seconds, according to tracking data from FlightAware.com.
The flight was being operated for Amazon by Atlas Air, according to a statement from the airline. “Our main priority at this time is caring for those affected and we will ensure we do all we can to support them now and in the days and weeks to come,” Atlas Air said in a statement.
Dave Clark, senior vice president of Worldwide Operations at Amazon, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the flight crew, their families and friends along with the entire team at Atlas Air during this terrible tragedy. We appreciate the first responders who worked urgently to provide support.”
Atlas Air / Amazon Prime Crash in Trinity Bay, TX represents the
– first fatal accident of Atlas Air
– 3rd fatal accident of an aircraft above 5,7 tons in the USA
– 7th fatal occurrence of a Boeing 767
– 1st fatal 767 freighter accident
Rescue workers are at the scene. pic.twitter.com/V96enjclLt
— JACDEC (@JacdecNew) February 23, 2019
Witnesses said they heard the plane’s engines surging and that the craft turned sharply before falling into a nosedive, Hawthorne said.
Aerial footage shows emergency personnel walking along a spit of marshland flecked by debris that extends into the water.
Hawthorne told the Houston Chronicle late Saturday afternoon that police had found human remains at the site of the crash.
Investigators have also recovered parts of the plane, he said. “There’s everything from cardboard boxes to women’s clothing and bed sheets,” Hawthorne said.
#FBI Houston is responding to a 767 cargo plane crash in Trinity Bay near Anahuac, TX. We are working closely with our partners from @ChambersSheriff @NTSB @USCG @FAANews. Please be patient while this investigation continues. Updates will be shared through this Twitter account. pic.twitter.com/5YHdPsR9Af
— FBI Houston (@FBIHouston) February 23, 2019
The FBI also confirmed in a statement that human remains have been found at the scene and that there were unlikely to be any survivors, adding that crisis management personnel and evidence response teams were assisting local, state, and federal authorities with the investigation.
The largest piece from the Boeing 767 that police have recovered is 50 feet long, Hawthorne told the newspaper.
The sheriff said recovering pieces of the plane and its black box containing flight data records will be difficult in muddy marshland that extends to about 5 feet deep in the area. Air boats are needed to access the area.
The plane had departed from Miami and was likely only minutes away from landing at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert after officials lost radar and radio contact with Atlas Air Flight 3591 when it was about 30 miles southeast of the airport, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.
We’re following reports that an Atlas Air 767 (operating for Amazon Prime Air) has crashed while approaching Houston en route from Miami. #5Y3591
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) February 23, 2019
Air traffic controllers in Houston tried at least twice to contact but the plane but received no response.
After losing contact, then they asked a United Airlines pilot if he had seen “ground contact”—wreckage—to his right or behind him, according to recordings of the conversation. “That’s a negative,” he said.
They also asked a Mesa Airlines pilot: “See if you can make ground contact. We are looking for a lost aircraft … it’s a heavy Boeing 767,” meaning it’s a big, two-aisle plane.
“No ground contact from here,” the Mesa pilot said.
The Coast Guard dispatched boats and at least one helicopter to assist in the search for survivors. A dive team with the Texas Department of Public Safety will be tasked with finding the black box, Hawthorne said.
Trinity Bay is just north of Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
FAA investigators arrived at the scene shortly after the crash with authorities from the National Transportation Safety Board, which will lead the investigation.