HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) – A Boeing 747 cargo jet bound for Spain with a crew of seven crashed in a fireball after its tail section apparently broke off during takeoff at Halifax International Airport early Thursday. All aboard were feared dead.

The MK Airlines jet loaded with lawn tractors and 58 tons of lobster and fish crashed shortly before 4 a.m. local time into a largely wooded area near an industrial park north of Halifax, said Steve Anderson, a spokesman for the carrier in Sussex, England.

The flight had originated from Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., and stopped in Halifax for refueling en route to Zaragoza, Spain.

“Right now, we can confirm that there are believed to be no survivors as a result of the downed airplane,” said Constable Joe Taplin of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The tail of the jet lay in a field at the end of the runway, inside the fence surrounding the airport. The rest of the plane cut a wide, V-shaped swath through woods and brush and came to rest in pieces less than a mile away. The tops of several trees and power poles were sheared off.

The weather at the time of the crash was good with a partly cloudy sky and light winds.

A pilot familiar with large planes quoted by Canadian Press said tails of jets such as the 747 occasionally strike the ground during rotation – the point in the takeoff sequence when the pilot pulls back on the control stick, lifting the nose off the ground. Large aircraft have so-called strike bars that protect the tail section.

Anderson said the crew members were from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The crash was the fourth for the cargo company in 12 years and the second involving fatalities. All three previous crashes were in Nigeria.

Witness Peter Lewis was dropping off his wife at the airport and saw two explosions that resembled heat lightning.

“As we were approaching we saw what I thought was heat lighting ‘cause I told everyone in the car that we’ve got heat lightning in the sky,” he told radio station CJCH.

“That was only a quick one followed by a second one that was bigger. And then we seen a very bright orange light and I mean bright. It took up the whole sky.”

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada assembled a team of investigators in Ottawa, said spokesman John Cottreau.

The crash forced the airport to close for several hours. Power was temporarily knocked out, but flights resumed on one runway when backup generators were brought in.

AP-ES-10-14-04 1138EDT

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