Air traffic controller talks of plane skid

March 1, 2009 9:25:00 PM PST
It's been a little more than two months since a Continental Airlines plane slid off a runway, taking off for Houston. This weekend, one of the air traffic controllers who was in the control tower when the accident happened, is talking about what he saw.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

It's an eyewitness account we are hearing for the first time from an air traffic controller who was very close to the situation. On the night of December 20th he wasn't sure who might come out of the crash alive.

As the plane experienced problems during the December 20th takeoff, air traffic controllers were witnessing the disaster before their eyes. Rick Foster says his coworker Tom Hedeen was in direct contact with the pilots.

"Tom did an outstanding job," said Foster.

Foster who is president of the Denver Air Traffic Controllers Association was assisting and describes what he saw as Continental Flight 1404 veered off the runway during takeoff, crashed and caught fire.

"The aircraft would be on fire, we're looking out the window, we think we are watching people die," Foster said.

Foster didn't know what was going to happen to the 115 passengers were on board that night. Two months later the emotions are still raw.

"And that's what is going through Tom's mind, as he's trying to direct the rescue equipment," Foster said. "The way he maintained his composure and professionalism directing the fire and rescue to the aircraft, that was exemplary."

And while 38 passengers were hurt in the crash, every single one of them survived.

It may be 2010 before a final report on the accident is complete. Information from the flight data recorder and preliminary inspections do not show any indication of mechanical or maintenance issues. Wind gusts that night were reported up to 37 miles per hour.

The passengers on board that Continental flight have filed several lawsuits over the accident. Some are suing the airline, claiming the crew failed to operate the plane properly and ignored signs of engine trouble. Another suit has been filed against Boeing, the plane's manufacturer. Those plaintiffs claim a negligent design made it difficult for the crew to control the plane

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