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Death Toll in Madrid Plane Crash Reaches 153

Rescue officials in Spain now put the death toll at 153 people, after a Spanair plane crashed on takeoff at Madrid's Barajas airport on Wednesday. The emergency service said only 19 people survived the crash, and most of those were injured. VOA's Sonja Pace has this report from London.

The Spanair flight was enroute from Madrid to the Canary Islands, a popular holiday destination. Witnesses said the plane tried to take off, veered off the runway and burst into flames.

Initial information was sketchy as to what may have happened, but reports indicated that a fire had broken out on one of the plane's engines.

Andrew Doyle is managing editor of the industry publication, Flight International. He tells VOA it is too early to say what may have gone wrong, but it is doubtful that engine failure alone would have caused the crash.

"An engine failure in itself should not lead to the loss of an aircraft," said Doyle. "All aircraft are designed to be able to cope with an engine failure even on takeoff. The aircraft should be able to either stop on the runway or continue its takeoff safely using the remaining engine."

Doyle says airliners also have procedures to handle engine fires.

The airplane involved in the Madrid crash was an MD-82 - part of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series that has been around since the 1980s. Doyle says thousands of these planes were manufactured and many are still in use today.

"Just like any other type of aircraft, you could say they've had their fair share of incidents over the years, but there's certainly nothing fundamentally unsafe about the MD-80s that we know of," he said.

Doyle says the investigation into the causes of the crash could take at least a year, maybe longer.

Spanair is a subsidiary of the Scandinavian carrier, SAS.