More plane problems for Spanair

August 25, 2008 1:13:23 PM PDT
Spanair's catastrophic week continued Monday, as yet another plane operated by the airline was forced to turn back due to a technical problem - the second in as many days.On Wednesday, a Spanair jet bound for the Canary Islands crashed during takeoff, killing 154 people.

Only 18 people survived the crash. On Monday, doctors allowed six-year-old Roberto Alvarez Carretero to leave the Ramon y Cajal hospital in Madrid, making him the first survivor to leave hospital since the tragic accident.

The child had sustained injuries to the head, face and arms.Roberto's 16-year-old sister Maria was traveling with him and died in the crash.

The other 17 survivors remain in six hospitals in Madrid, two of them in serious condition, according to a Madrid regional health department statement.

In Monday's incident, the plane - from the same MD-80 series as the one that crashed - was 45 minutes into a flight from Granada in southern Spain to the northeastern city of Barcelona when it had to turn back to the airport in Granada, the national airport authority AENA said.

The aircraft is owned by a small Spanish company called Swiftair, but the crew - including the pilot and co-pilot - were all Spanair employees. It was carrying 158 passengers and crew.

A Spanair spokeswoman said the problem on Flight JK6621 was "a technical one" but could give no more details. She said the incident had not been declared an emergency at any moment. She spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with company policy.

It was the second Spanair-operated plane in as many days to experience problems.

On Sunday, a Spanair jet flying from Barcelona to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands was diverted to Malaga in southern Spain because of a problem with a backup generator. As a special precaution, Spain's civil aviation agency sent inspectors to examine that plane, also part of the MD-80 series.

Meanwhile, forensic teams have identified the bodies of more than half the 154 victims of last week's plane crash in Madrid, but the interior minister warned that some of the badly charred bodies may never be identified.

"We are working day and night," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said in an interview with Cadena Ser radio. He said 92 sets of remains have been identified so far, and that most of the rest would be identified in a matter of days.

"Will some bodies go unidentified? I cannot tell you right now, but it is a possibility," the minister said.

The newspaper El Pais, quoting sources close to the crash investigation, said the probe is focusing on the possibility that the Spanair jet lacked proper engine power as it tried to take off.

The plane struggled to get airborne, veered to the right and crashed, burning and largely disintegrating.

The crash came after a first attempt at takeoff was delayed by what Spanair calls a minor problem with a temperature gauge outside the cockpit.

El Pais said airport video of the takeoff shows that the plane used up much more of the runway than it normally should as it tried to take off for the Canary Islands, which suggested insufficient thrust.

Spanish civil aviation chief Manuel Bautista, speaking at a news conference Monday, said he would not comment on any aspect of the investigation. He said Spanair planes have passed more than 100 inspections so far this year.

"In general, the company was fine and no problems whatsoever were detected," he said.