Colombia plane breaks into pieces after crash

A police officer stands by a crashed plane sitting on the runaway at the airport on San Andres island in Colombia
Image caption The Boeing 737 broke-up after crashing short of the runway

A Colombian passenger plane crashed and broke up as it came into land on an island in the Caribbean, injuring at least 119 people, officials have said.

One person died, apparently from a heart attack - officials said others were "scattered" over the runway.

The Boeing 737 was carrying 131 passengers and crew when it tried to land on the island of San Andres.

The passenger jet, operated by local airline Aires, was reportedly hit by lightning before it crashed.

It had flown from the Colombian capital, Bogota.

Col David Barrero from the Colombian Air Force said reports suggested the plane had crashed at 0149 (0649 GMT) on Monday and that "the skill of the pilot kept the plane from colliding with the airport".

At least 16 non-Colombian nationals were reported to have been on the plane, from countries including the US, Brazil, Costa Rica and France.

'Miracle'

A police statement said the plane's fuselage had broken up into three pieces and that passengers were "literally scattered over the end of the runway".

The island's police chief, Col Hector Paez, said an 11-year-old girl who had been trapped beneath seats on the aircraft was among those severely injured.

The pilot reported that the plane was struck by lightning, Donald Tascon, deputy director of Colombia's aeronautics authority, said.

"We are inspecting the remains of the plane to try to establish what the damages were and what caused the accident," he told Reuters news agency.

Of 99 passengers taken to the Amor de Patria Hospital on San Andres, only four suffered major injuries according to the hospital director, Dr Robert Sanchez.

The woman who died is thought to have died from a heart attack, Dr Sanchez told Reuters.

Passengers said the plane had appeared to be landing normally before suddenly losing control.

"I felt an impact. My seat was knocked loose but I was able to unbuckle myself and get two of my daughters out," Heriberto Rua was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"We all felt the plane was arriving very, very quickly on the tarmac," 28-year-old French passenger Virginie Giroux told the AFP news agency.

"We did not feel the contact with the ground. We just saw everything flying, everything bursting in the plane."

Another passenger, Ricardo Ramirez, said the accident had "appeared out of nowhere".

"We tried to get out of the plane because it was starting to shoot flames. In a few minutes, a police patrol arrived and helped us," he told the Associated Press.

San Andres Governor Pedro Gallardo described it as a "miracle" that so many survived.

"We have to give thanks to God," he said, and praised rescue workers for their "fantastic" response.

San Andres Island, about 190km (120 miles) east of the Nicaraguan coast, is a popular tourist destination.