Calgarian injured in Myanmar crash recounts moments before plane left runway
Published Sunday, May 19, 2019 1:17PM MDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 19, 2019 9:37PM MDT
A Calgary woman who was a passenger in a plane that skidded off a wet runway in Myanmar earlier this month is recovering in hospital and hopes to be back home soon.
At least four people were injured when the plane operated by Biman Bangladesh Airlines slid off the runway while landing on May 8 at Myanmar's Yangon International Airport.
Officials say the Dash-8 Q400 aircraft was carrying 33 people, including four crew members, and was landing in bad weather when the incident occurred.
Calgarian Leya Russell was among the injured and was on her way home after spending the last month working with ‘Photographers Without Borders’ in the Bangladesh area.
She spoke to CTV News Calgary on Saturday evening from a Bangkok hospital where she is recovering.
Russell says the flight’s departure from Dhaka was delayed and that the wheels were making a strange sound when the plane took off.
“I just thought, you know, propeller plane maybe kind of weird, whatever, I’m not going to worry about it,” she said.
She says the plane attempted to land several times when it reached Yangon International Airport.
“The captain came on and said that there was bad weather and so we were going to circle and try to wait for the weather to subside,” she said. “Every time we came down to land it would go black and then pilot would pull up very sharply and go above the clouds.”
Russell says the plane circled the airport for about an hour and then came down in the middle of the runway. She says she thought the plane was going too fast but that everything was okay at that point.
“We’ve made it and everything is going to be okay. Captain realizes that we’re going too fast and we’re not going to be able to stop so he tried to take back off. He tries to very quickly go up into the air and basically as soon as we go up, we slam back down and the wheels come off the plane and the wing breaks off the plane. Everything above me just crashes down onto me and I get kind of crushed between the seat and the luggage above me. My seat buckles into the luggage compartment below.”
She says she was knocked unconscious and when she woke up everyone was screaming and covered in blood. She says the crew had trouble getting the door open.
“We were extremely lucky because the fire brigade came and they used the Jaws of Life to open the door from the outside so that we could get out,” said Russell.
A bus was used to move the passengers to the terminal and Russell says it took about 30 minutes before medical help arrived.
She was taken to hospital by ground ambulance and was medevacked to Bangkok for treatment.
“Because my injuries were so severe they couldn’t treat me in Myanmar,” she said.
Russell says she broke two vertebras in her back and compressed her spine and is still in a lot of pain.
She is in a brace for the next four months and will travel with a nurse on her way back home.
“I’m very lucky that I don’t need surgery. As long as I don’t injure myself in the next four months, as long as I wear my brace, then I won’t need surgery and hopefully I can return to my job.”
Russell is a freelance photographer and makes a good portion of her income shooting weddings in the summer.
Her injuries mean she will be unable to work while she is recovering. Friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help her make ends meet.
She says despite her experience she is still determined to help others.
“I truly feel like I was born to do this, help people. Even though I’m very scared to fly today, I'm going to keep going to work for NGOs, keep helping people because I think if you can help you should."
Russell is leaving Bangkok on Sunday and hopes to be back in Calgary by Tuesday.
(With files from Brenna Rose and Kathy Le)