Jamaica: No guide lights when jet overshot runway

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Offshore lights that guide pilots into Jamaica's main airport had been knocked out for more than a month when an American Airlines jet landed in driving rain and overshot the runway, injuring most of the 154 people on board, officials said Friday.

An underwater electrical fault in November disrupted the 1,300-foot (400-meter) stretch of white lights on a sandbar stretching into the Caribbean Sea, according to Norman Manley International Airport operations director Stanley Smith. Pilots have been regularly advised about the outage, and the runway itself was fully lit, he said.

"The airport has been fully operational since (the outage) ... so we wouldn't presume that would be a cause. But clearly the investigation is still preliminary," airport vice president Mark Williams told The Associated Press.

American Airlines Flight 331 skidded off the runway as it landed in heavy rain Tuesday night, arriving from Washington's Reagan National Airport by way of Miami. The Boeing 737-800's fuselage cracked open, the left main landing gear collapsed and the nose was crushed as the plane lurched to a halt at the ocean's edge.

All 154 people aboard survived. Ninety-two were taken to hospitals, with no injuries considered life-threatening. The U.S. State Department said 76 of the passengers were Americans.

Jamaican and U.S. authorities are continuing their investigation, including whether the pilot could have avoided the accident by aborting the landing and circling for another attempt.

The Kingston airport has one runway with two designations, depending on the direction of a plane's approach. Lights leading to the other end of the runway were functioning, but wind conditions made that approach less desirable, Smith said.

The approach lights are not expected to be operating again until next month. Large planes began arriving at Norman Manley again on Thursday after being diverted to Montego Bay for two days.

Smith said there have been no other incidents of landing problems since the approach lights went out in November.

American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin declined to comment on runway conditions because the investigation is still being conducted. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board's press office was closed for Christmas.

Jamaican officials expect the probe to be concluded by Sunday, though Civil Aviation Authority director general Oscar Derby told Radio Jamaica he did not know when its conclusions would be released.


Katz reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Campbell from Kingston.


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