At least 144 people have been killed after a passenger plane swerved off the runway at Madrid’s Barajas airport, Spanish officials say.
Many others were hurt when the Spanair plane bound for the Canary Islands left the runway with 172 people on board.
There were reports of a fire in the left engine during take-off. TV footage showed smoke billowing from the craft.
Helicopters were called in to dump water on to the plane, and dozens of ambulances went to the scene.
The Red Cross said it has set up a field hospital at the airport to treat the injured and is offering psychological counseling to the victims’ families.
Clouds of gray and black smoke billowed from the site, and even local media cameras could not get a close view of the accident scene. A helicopter passed overhead, dumping what appeared to be water on reported grassfires sparked by the blaze.
Ambulances were seen speeding in and out of the airport and dozens of emergency vehicles gathered at one entrance point. Watch as the wounded arrive at a hospital »
Spanish media reported at least 11 fire engines were dispatched to control the blaze.
TV footage later showed several people being carried away on stretchers.
The exact number of casualties is still unknown, with several reports suggesting just 26 people survived the crash, which happened at about 1430 local time (1230 GMT).
Officials confirmed to the BBC and Spanish news agency Efe that the death toll had passed 100.
The BBC’s Steve Kingstone, in Madrid, says planes have begun to take off from the airport, but a grim line of emergency vehicles obscured the view of the crash scene.
Earlier, BBC journalist Stephanie McGovern, who is at the airport, said she had seen more than 70 ambulances leaving the scene.
Spanish journalist Manuel Moleno, who was near the area when the accident happened, said the plane appeared to have “crashed into pieces”.
“We heard a big crash. So we stopped and we saw a lot of smoke,” he said.
A survivor told a reporter from Spain’s ABC newspaper that she and other passengers heard a loud explosion as the plane was taking off.
Spanair crash on extremely long runway
“She said they could see the fire … and then it was not even a minute or so they heard (something) blow up,” the reporter, Carlota Fomina, told CNN. “They were about 200 meters in the air and then they were landing but not crashing. They were landing, like, little by little — it was not like they (fell) down suddenly.”
The accident happened as Spanair Flight 5022 — also carrying passengers from Lufthansa Flight 2554 — was taking off at about 2:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. ET), an airport official said. According to Spanair’s Web site, the flight was originally supposed to depart at 1 p.m.
Mr Moleno said he had seen as many as 20 people walking away from the wreckage.
‘Good safety record’
The plane, which was destined for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, came down during or shortly after take-off from Terminal Four at Barajas.
TV footage showed that the plane had come to rest in fields near the airport.
Spanair issued a statement saying that flight number JK 5022 had been involved in an accident at 1445 local time. The airline’s parent company, Scandinavian firm SAS, later said the accident happened at 1423.
According to Spain’s airport authority, Aena, the plane had been due to take off at 1300 local time.
No details of the nationalities of the passengers on board have yet been released.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero was on his way to the scene after cutting short his holiday, his office said.
The aircraft was a MD82, a plane commonly used on short trips around Europe, aviation expert Chris Yates told the BBC. He said Spanair had a very good safety record. The plane was bought from Koprean air according to Aljazeera.
panair, owned by Scandinavian airline SAS, is one of Spain’s three major private carriers.
An SAS official said there were 166 passengers plus six crew on the plane, which was a code-share flight with Lufthansa Airline, indicating the jet may have been carrying German vacationers. According to AlJazeera many German vacationers were on board. Lufthansa did not yet establish an emergency response line.
Barajas Airport closed after the crash but reopened more than two hours later, allowing a limited number of take-offs and landings, the airport official said.
It was the first fatal accident at the airport since December 1983, when 93 people were killed as two Spanish airliners collided while taxiing for takeoff.
The airport, eight miles (13 km) northeast of central Madrid, is Spain’s busiest, handling more than 40 million passengers a year.
The United States’ National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigation team to Madrid to aid in the crash investigation because the aircraft is an American-made McDonnell Douglas MD-82, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.
He said the group will depart “as soon as we can gather the team together.”
People concerned for relatives or friends who might have been on board the plane can call Spanair’s helpline on +34 800 400 200 (from inside Spain only).
Cruise speed 504mph (811km/h)
Length 45.1m (148ft)
Height 9m (29.5ft)
Wing-span 32.8m (107.6ft)
Maximum range 2,052 nautical miles (3,798km)
SPAIN’S WORST CRASHES
27 March 1977
583 people die in Los Rodeos, Tenerife, after two Boeing 747s collide – one Pan Am, one KLM.
23 April 1980
146 people die near Los Rodeos, Tenerife, as a Dan Air Boeing 727 crashes while attempting to land.
27 November 1983
181 people die, 11 survive, as an Avianca Boeing 747 crashes in the village of Mejorada del Campo, near Madrid, on its way to Barajas aiport.
19 February 1985
148 die when an Iberia Boeing 727 crashes into a TV mast near Bilbao.