Priest aboard crash jet calls survival a miracle

A Tanzanian priest aboard the Air France jet that crashed in Toronto and burst into flames yesterday said he was "prepared for death", adding that he considered the passengers' survival a "miracle" and that he is "grateful to God that he heard and answered [his] prayers".

"I was actually prepared for death. I said, 'God, we are dying. Save us God.' That was my last prayer," Fr Ayub Mwampela told The Catholic Register in Toronto a day after the crash, which occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning Australian time.

As Fr Mwampela was praying, passengers around him began to shout. Panic mushroomed inside the plane as people realised something was very wrong. Passengers had gone from applauding the crew for a difficult landing to the grip of fear.

Fr Mwampela said the crew was "wise".

When the plane stopped moving, flight attendants reassured passengers and tried to keep them calm as they opened doors to funnel people out of the plane. The reassurances and instructions from the crew prevented a crush of people jamming the doors, Fr Mwampela said.

When Fr Mwampela jumped from the hulk of the jet onto the banks of Etobicoke Creek, he and other passengers found themselves near a bridge on Highway 401, Canada's largest, busiest highway. As rain turned every surface slick and slippery, Fr Mwampela and other passengers climbed onto the road surface and were picked up by passing commuters.

"There were some good Samaritans who took us to the place where we could be directed where to go," said Fr Mwampela.

Loaded onto buses and taken back to the airport, Fr Mwampela said he spoke with passengers annoyed with how long it was taking for them to be reunited with people who came to pick them up.

"There were some people who were very angry, actually. I was telling them, 'No, you should cool down,'" Fr Mwampela said. "They were angry because people were waiting at the airport and they were delaying them. I said, 'No, what they (members of the flight crew) have done, actually we should praise them, the way they communicated.'"

Fr Mwampela, who is studying for a licentiate in social communications at the Gregorian University in Rome, woke the next morning to headlines declaring the passengers' escape a miracle.

"For me it is actually a miracle, and I am grateful to God that he heard and answered my prayers," Fr Mwampela said. "When all of us came out of the plane safely ... it was a miracle, I think."

Fr Mwampela is in Canada for a two-month internship with The Catholic Register national newspaper. He will return to Rome to complete his degree, then take up duties as director of communications in the Mbeya Diocese in southern Tanzania.

Air France Flight 358 was to be the last plane allowed to land in Toronto just after 4 p.m. Tuesday local time as lightening, rain, hail and wind swept through the city. Winds were blowing about 35 miles per hour, but conditions were good enough for a normal landing, according to officials at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Priest aboard jet that crashed in Canada was 'prepared for death' (Catholic News Service 3/8/05)

Air France jet may have landed too late: minister (Agence France-Presse/ABC 3/8/05)

4 Aug 2005