DURANGO, Mexico — The Rev. Esequiel Sanchez felt apprehensive even before his flight took off from the city of Durango around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, en route to Mexico City. It began raining as the jetliner taxied down the runway. The downpour got stronger and stronger.
He was surprised that the plane took off. “I had a feeling it would be a bumpy ride,” he recalled.
As the plane began its ascent, Father Sanchez noticed from his window seat, 1D, that the visibility had gone to zero. Then the plane plunged. The passengers screamed.
He was not certain they were going to die, he recalled, but he was “getting ready for it.”
He silently prayed: “God, come to our aid. Secondly, forgive us, and everyone on the plane.”
Moments later, the plane hit the ground, nose-first.
But all 103 people on board survived — four crew members and 99 passengers, including two infants.
Flight 2431, an Embraer ERJ-190AR jet, came to a stop just 300 yards from the runway of the General Guadalupe Victoria International Airport in Durango.
Amid billowing smoke and the acrid smell of jet fuel, crew members pried open the emergency doors. Others fled through a hole near the wing. Father Sanchez, known to his parishioners as Father Zeke, helped a flight attendant escort people off the burning jetliner. Outside, he saw the pilot on the ground — injured but alive.
“If the flight was a little bit longer, I don’t think we’d be talking,” the priest said by telephone from a Durango hospital as he was getting ready for surgery to install a titanium plate in his fractured left arm. “If the plane was running faster, the window for people coming out alive would be much smaller. So yes, I attribute it to an important miracle.”
Another survivor, Rudy Díaz, 36, a Mexican-American truck owner from Chicago who had traveled to Durango for the baptism of the daughter of his friend Chris Korsch, who was also traveling with him, was one of several passengers who were awe-struck to have lived.
“I still can’t believe we all made it out alive,” Mr. Díaz said from a hotel lobby in Durango. “You never imagine something like this will happen to you and then you will be alive to tell the story. Thank God he gave us a second chance, and wouldn’t let us fly any higher. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Mr. Díaz, who was seated in Row 7, recalled hearing a loud bang that caused the aircraft to rock up and down. His head hit the ceiling of the fuselage. Seeing the fire, he clambered out of the plane.
“It was horrible, people screaming, little kids crying, old ladies could not walk through the mud, and I was trying to help them get away from the plane, which was already in flames,” Mr. Díaz said. “The airplane was breaking apart from the get-go when we took off and heard the boom, pieces were falling apart.”
When asked about the survival of all on board being described as a miracle, Mr. Díaz said, “I don’t know if I used to believe in them, but I certainly do now.”
Mr. Díaz’s cousin, Ruby Rodriguez, 37, who also lives in Chicago, said she felt certain she would die. She recalled screaming the names of her three children, declaring her love for them. (They had stayed behind in Chicago.)
But then, she heard the flight attendant yelling, “Run, run, get out of the airplane!” She did.
Ms. Rodriguez, an escrow administrator who had been in Durango for a family gathering, said on Wednesday that she had spent hours crying and navigating a wave of emotions.
“I feel sad that it happened, that people went through the traumatic experience but at the same time I am just happy I am alive,” she said.
“It makes you think and appreciate life more and think: ‘I am still here, so what is my purpose?’ It makes you think of what is really important and what is no longer.”
Ms. Rodriguez, like other passengers, described the takeoff as “abnormally shaky.” She was sitting in the back of the aircraft, near the bathroom.
In Durango, a city in north-central Mexico, residents said they were praying for the recovery of the pilot, Carlos Galván Meyran, 38, who suffered severe injuries and underwent surgery for a cervical injury on Tuesday evening.
But the surgery was successful and he is now recovering, though his condition remains serious, local officials said Wednesday.
Comments on social media sites and local news reports praised Mr. Galván’s conduct as “heroic,” contending that his apt maneuvering prevented a tragedy.
Local officials stated that the cause of the crash was a gust of wind that hit the jet, causing its sudden descent and making it hit the ground to the left of the runway.
Father Sanchez said the weather conditions seemed like a microburst — an intense small-scale downdraft produced by a thunderstorm or rain shower. “We came down very violently,” he said.
Aviation Safety, a website that keeps track of accidents and incidents, reported that both engines broke away during the ground slide and that the aircraft came to rest just past the paved end of the runway.
Aeromexico said on its Twitter account that as of Wednesday morning, 64 people had been released from the hospital. Fernando Ríos, a spokesman for state health department, said that only two remained in serious condition: the pilot and an 8-year-old girl with burns over 25 percent of her body.
The plane’s manufacturer, Embraer, based in Brazil, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had sent a group of technicians to investigate the crash.
Father Sanchez, the middle of seven children born to Mexican immigrant parents in Chicago, was ordained in 1995. He celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday with friends and relatives in La Purísima, his family’s hometown near Durango. He had been looking forward to going home to Des Plaines, the Chicago suburb where he serves as rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The shrine is named for a venerated image of the Virgin Mary, and it is one of the world’s most popular pilgrimage destinations.
As he entered surgery, Father Sanchez, who had back pain and several broken bones, was accompanied by a younger brother, Jaime. Asked what he would say in his first homily when he returns home, he said: “I told you so: Pray hard. You never know.”
Orignially published in NYT.