All 115 people aboard the Denver to Houston Continental flight that slid off the runway and caught fire survived. A native Houstonian on that flight spoke with Eyewitness News about the terrifying ordeal.
"I was just trying to get away from the plane," said native Houstonian Alexis Zamora.
Zamora considers himself lucky. His immediate thoughts, he admits, were not pleasant.
"I thought the plane was going to catch on fire, continue to roll and there was no way out. I thought we were all going to die," he said.
Zamora says he knew something was wrong when, upon takeoff, he felt a bump and then another. Before long, the plane skidded off the runway into a ravine. From his seat, he could tell an engine had caught fire and the chaos ensued.
"I jumped out of my seat and by that time, people were already jumping over their seats," he said. "The emergency exits were open. A gentleman right in front of me went to open the emergency exit on my side, which was engulfed in flames."
First responders admit that when they went to the crash, they were expecting the worst. In all, more than 30 passengers were hurt, with at least two critically injured. What surprised crews is that the plane didn't suffer more damage.
"Quite frankly, at this type of speed and this type of terrain this plane traveled, it's a miracle it didn't come apart and become engulfed in flames," said Chief Bill Davis with the Denver Fire Department.
Zamora, an aspiring musician and student at Metro State College in Denver, walked away with only bad memories. Still, just 24 hours after the wreck, he's boarding another flight to Houston, he says, to reassure his family that he's OK.
"I'm going to hug the crap out of them," he said. "I can't wait to see my parents. I can't wait to see my mom, my dad and my brother."
Zamora says he did lose all his valuables on that flight, but he's grateful, obviously, to have his life.
Many passengers on that flight arrived back in Houston Sunday on a special charter flight.
"It's just like the movies, honestly," said one passenger with whom we spoke. "I don't really want to say anything else."
The passengers remained silent about the experience as they were escorted through the terminal by employees, but pictures were enough to tell some stories, as holiday hugs took on new meaning.
"Very emotional, I just want to find my son," said Melanie Lanier, who was looking for her 23-year-old son, Arthur, and his girlfriend. It's her first Christmas with him in 20 years.
"I'm so thankful that my son is here, that his girlfriend is here, that everyone on that flight survived," she told us. "There were a couple of serious injuries, from what they say, and other than that, there were no deaths and that's in God's hands."
Many said they didn't think they'd see their loved ones again. The Greater Houston Red Cross mental health chapter greeted passengers as they got off the plane and say there will likely be more difficult days ahead.
"When someone gets off an airplane that's on fire, it's normal for you get scared when you see a match flare up sometime or you smell smoke again," said a representative with the Red Cross. "We just want to reassure them this is their normal type thing happening."
But for the passengers, they're just glad to be home.
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