'This plane is finished!'

By Tian Xuefei and Qi Xiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-26 07:26
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YICHUN, Heilongjiang - Just seconds before a passenger plane carrying scores of people was to land at Yichun airport, Zhang Zhanhua noticed something wrong: The lights on the aircraft were off.

'This plane is finished!'

Zhang Zhanhua, the ground service manager at the Yichun airport, risked his own health to rescue injured passengers from the crash site on Tuesday night. [China Daily] 

"I just told the people around me 'Oh, no! This plane is finished!'" said the 45-year-old ground service manager who was waiting for the arrival of senior officials on board. "It was as much a hunch as it was based on years of experience."

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Those around Zhang stood incredulous at what he'd said, until moments later the jet broke into two, smashed into the ground and exploded.

"Most of us were just stunned and couldn't move," Zhang said. "Then someone shouted for us to rescue people."

Without thinking, all 40 or so people present rushed to the site, where they encountered a horrendous scene: Fire was spreading everywhere, naked passengers whose clothes were burned off were struggling to crawl out of the wreckage and the captain of the jet lay beside the contorted cockpit, his head covered in blood.

"A woman close to me just stretched out her arms and said 'please help me', before passing out," recalled Zhang. He first carried her to a safe place and then sent her to hospital when the rescue team arrived half an hour later.

People were shouting and howling in the heavy fog, crying for any help they could get.

Zhang and his companions tried to put out small fires around seriously injured passengers and quickly helped those with minor injuries get out of danger.

When two naked female passengers ran screaming from the wreckage, Zhang simply took off his own clothes and wrapped them up.

"Some of us rushed back to the warehouse to fetch sheets and blankets," Zhang said. "We didn't have enough for quite a number of passengers whose clothes had been burned off."

They used anything at their disposal as makeshift stretchers - beds and quilts, long handles from broken suitcases and even tree branches.

Zhang managed to pull five injured passengers out before the rescue team arrived.

Two more small explosions shook their rescue operation, but Zhang seemed not to notice. With a pair of bloodshot eyes he was focused on helping everyone he could - he still hadn't slept a minute since the night before.

He also disregarded the burns he suffered on his hands and arms.

"I just wanted to save more lives," he said.