JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Children were among the passengers pulled to safety overnight after a Boeing 737 charter flight overran a runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and slid into the shallow waters of the St. Johns River.
A source close to the NAS Jacksonville Fire Department described the rescue as chaotic and difficult because so many people needed to be pulled to shore.
But the firefighters were prepared. The NAS Jacksonville fire crew had about 20 members helping out, and 80 members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responded to the scene.
“I would like to commend my First Coast fire rescue personnel Department of Defense firefighters who were first on scene and immediately jumped in the water, risking their life to help the passengers out of the plane," said Capt. Mike Connor, commanding officer of NAS Jacksonville.
The first responders floated rafts in the water and pulled the passengers and crew members off the wings of the plane into the rafts, then pulled them to shore.
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The firefighters helped them out of the rafts onto rocks and then to the safety of land.
“Our first priority was obviously human life. That was our immediate focus was getting the people to safety,” Connor said. “When I arrived on scene, most of the passengers had been taken off the airplane and were ashore.”