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Des Plaines priest among 49 injured in Aeromexico airliner crash

Red Cross workers and rescue workers carry an injured person on a stretcher, right, as airline workers, left, walk away from the site where an Aeromexico airliner crashed in a field near the Durango, Mexico, airport on Tuesday. | Red Cross Durango via AP

MEXICO CITY — Forty-nine people, including a Chicago-area priest and another passenger from Chicago, suffered minor injuries when an Aeromexico jetliner crashed after taking off in the northern state of Durango on Tuesday.

The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, director of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, broke his arm when the plane went down in a field near the state capital’s airport, according to a Chicago Archdiocese spokesman.

The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez | Provided by the Archdiocese of Chicago
The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez | Provided by the Archdiocese of Chicago

Gov. Jose Aispuro, who had initially reported there were no deaths but later said authorities were searching the charred Embraer 190 to make sure, announced late Tuesday that “no person has died.”

Officials said 49 people had been hospitalized — most with minor injuries. The pilot suffered the most serious injury, a cervical lesion that required surgery. Some people had burns on a quarter of their bodies, said Durango state Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Ros.

Aispuro said all were expected to live.

“Fortunately we have now found all 103 — now we know where each one is — this gives us a lot of tranquility,” Aispuro said.

Sanchez, the Des Plaines priest, was “doing OK” at a hospital, an archdiocese spokesman said. Details on his trip weren’t immediately available.

“He sustained some injuries but we are grateful to learn he is alert and resting,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We pray for Fr. Sanchez and everyone affected by this plane crash.”

Passengers expressed gratitude to be alive, but many were extremely shaken after the crash Tuesday afternoon.

“It was really, really ugly,” said Lorenzo Nunez, a passenger from Chicago who fled the plane with his two sons and wife. “It burned in a question of seconds,” he told reporters, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

The federal government earlier said 101 people were on the plane, 97 passengers and four crew members. But the governor said two minors had not been included in the first tally.

The state civil defense office published photos of a burning but relatively intact plane lying on its belly in a field. Ambulances lined up at the accident site to ferry the injured to hospitals. The governor said some passengers got out under their power, and some even wandered back to the nearby airport of Durango city to seek out relatives.

Officials and witnesses differed on whether the plane either fell shortly after takeoff or ran off the runway without really gaining altitude. But they agreed the plane was trying to take off during a storm, with some describing marble-sized hail.

The governor said a gust of wind hit the plane shortly after it took off, causing the jet to lose speed and hit the ground with its left wing, knocking both engines loose. He said the plane skidded into a field in a horizontal position, which allowed escape slides to activate so all passengers and crew could escape before the plane caught fire.

Israel Solano Mejia, director of the Durango city civil defense agency, told Foro TV that the plane “made it off the ground, but fell nose-first” just a few hundred yards from the end of the runway.

“The nose took the hit. The most seriously injured is the pilot,” Solano Mejia said. However, he said, “the majority of passengers left (the plane) under their own power.”

The federal Transport Department office said in a press statement that the airplane “suffered an accident moments after takeoff,” but gave no information on the possible cause.

Aeromexico said the flight was AM2431 from Durango to Mexico City.

The web site said the Brazilian-made medium-range Embraer 190 was about 10 years old and had seen service with two other airlines before joining the Aeromexico fleet.

Operations were suspended at Guadalupe Victoria airport after the crash.

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout