Though initial reports vary widely as to the number of people killed in the accident, the most recent figures released by Spanish emergency rescue officials claim that only 26 people arrived at area hospitals for treatment. The plane was completely engulfed in flames, and fire surrounding the plane prevented rescue vehicles from approaching. An official who wished to remain anonymous told reporters that with the amount of fire involved, no further survivors were expected.
The MD-82 plane had been delayed on the ground before taking off due to “technical difficulties,” but had been cleared for take off. The plane was part of the popular MD-80 series, used by several airlines, including American Airlines, Alitalia, and Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS), which owned the plane involved in the crash.
There are an estimated 900 MD-80 series planes currently in service throughout the world.
Red Cross representative Olivia Acosta told reporters there were 22 ambulances dispatched to the crash scene, though helicopters had to drop water over the site first before rescue crews could approach.
Spanair had faced job losses and financial difficulties over the past year, and the small carrier, owned by SAS, had also announced a reduction in flights to reduce costs.
Aviation experts reported that both the Barajas airport in Madrid and the MD-82 plane had excellent safety records, and the cause of the crash is not known, though one of the rear engines had apparently caught fire.
Flights were cancelled at the Barajas airport, and countless others delayed for as long as seven hours. The crash marks Europe’s worst air disaster in recent years, and Spanair’s managing director Marcus Hedblom told reporters that the crash was “the worst thing that could happen.”
Spanair also issued a formal statement, saying that the names of the dead would be released only after family members had been notified, and that “Spanair is doing everything possible to help the Spanish authorities at this difficult time.”