HALIFAX — A 747 cargo plane went off the runway while landing early Wednesday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, leaving a trail of debris and sending four crew to hospital.
Airport spokeswoman Theresa Rath Spicer said the SkyLease Cargo plane skidded off Runway 14 just after 5 a.m.
She said it wasn't clear what caused the accident — the third serious incident at Stanfield in 15 years, following crashes in 2004 and 2015.
"It did land and then overshot the runway," Rath Spicer said Wednesday.
"There were four crew on board at the time. They were removed from the aircraft and transported to hospital with what are described as minor injuries."
Airport fire crews quickly extinguished a small fire in the plane's tail area, she said.
Flight KKE 4854 was arriving from Chicago in rainy conditions, and scheduled to be loaded with live lobster destined for China, Rath Spicer said.
The plane was sitting Wednesday morning on a slight incline far off the runway and within about 50 metres of a fence that marks the perimeter of the airport boundary. Two of its engines appeared to be attached but were heavily damaged, while two other engines were sheared off completely.
The landing gear was not visible and the nose of the white aircraft sustained moderate damage, but the underside of the plane appeared to be cracked and heavily damaged.
As well, the fuselage appeared to be bent about halfway along the length of the aircraft, where the outer skin was mangled. Debris was scattered behind the plane.
An aluminum ladder trailed from an open main door near the front of the aircraft.
Emergency Health Services spokesman Remo Zaccagna said two ambulances were sent to the airport, along with a supervisory unit.
"Patients were transported to hospital, but due to privacy laws (we) cannot provide the nature of their injuries," he said.
The airport had activated its emergency operations centre and suspended all flights, but the main runway was reopened shortly after 8 a.m.
"We did temporarily close the airfield, so both runways — the one that was impacted by this morning's incident and also our main runway. We have since reopened our main runway but our flight schedules continue to be impacted," Rath Spicer said.
She said there were delays in arrivals and departures, and some flight cancellations.
District chief Gord West said the Halifax fire department responded to assist the airport's fire unit.
"We respond with water supply and manpower," West said. "There are no hydrants on the runways so we use tankers to shuttle water back and forth."
Halifax fire deputy chief Roy Hollett said crews had dug a trench around the aircraft to guard against a fuel leak.
"Everything they can do has been done for anything emergency related," Hollett said. "All the hazards are contained and controlled."
Chris Krepski, spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators were en route to the site and will examine the aircraft and the surrounding terrain, interview possible witnesses and crew members and take possession of the flight data recorders.
No one from SkyLease was immediately available for comment.
In August, Stanfield airport announced SkyLease Cargo was operating two flights a week for First Catch, a Chinese-owned seafood freight forwarding company.
It said SkyLease's 747 aircraft had the capacity to carry up to 120 tonnes of Nova Scotia seafood to China. The inaugural flight from Halifax was greeted with a water cannon salute on arrival in Changsha, the capital of China's Hunan province.
Officials with First Catch refused to comment on Wednesday.
The new flights are also offered in partnership with locally owned and airport-based Gateway, which performs airport logistics and ground handling services at Halifax Stanfield.
The company wouldn't comment and said all media inquiries would be handled through the airport authority.
According to Airfleets.net, the Boeing 747 first flew on Feb. 28, 1997, and was previously owned by Singapore Airlines before flying for SkyLease in 2017.
Flightradar24.com said the plane had flown to Anchorage, Alaska, and Changsha on Monday.
Two other planes have crashed while attempting takeoff or landing at the Halifax airport since 2004.
A passenger plane crashed during a blizzard on March 29, 2015, injuring 25 people. Air Canada Flight 624 bounced into the air and crashed near the runway threshold before careening along the tarmac. Federal investigators blamed approach procedures, poor visibility and lighting.
On Oct. 14, 2004, a British-based MK Airlines 747 went down just beyond the runway during takeoff, killing seven crew members. The Boeing cargo aircraft dragged its tail before breaking up and bursting into flames in a wooded area. No one survived.
A lengthy investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found that crew fatigue and inadequate software training led the crew to enter incorrect information and caused the plane to set the throttles too low for a good takeoff.
Rath Spicer said the earlier incidents were on a different runway, and deflected questions about any similarities among them to investigators.
"We are very proud of our safety record," she said. "Obviously, safety is our number 1 priority and we are now focused on resuming our operation, ensuring the safety of our passengers and working with the officials to determine how we can assist with the investigation."