Madrid, Spain — A jetliner heading to the popular Canary Islands vacation resort crashed during takeoff Wednesday, turning a wooded area off the end of a runway into a hellish scene of charred bodies and smoldering wreckage. Some 153 were believed dead - Spain's worst air disaster in nearly 25 years.
Only 19 people survived the midafternoon crash of the Spanair MD-82 at Madrid's Barajas International Airport, and some were in critical condition, said Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, whose department oversees civil aviation in Spain.
The airline didn't release a death toll, but said the plane carried 172 crew members and passengers, including two babies and 20 youngsters. There was no word on how many children died.
As smoke billowed from the wreckage, dozens of fire trucks and ambulances rushed to help, lining a nearby road and filling a field next to a swath of charred vegetation. Helicopters flew over, dumping water on fires.
"The scene is devastating," said Pablo Albella, an emergency rescue worker. "The fuselage is destroyed. The plane burned. I have seen a kilometer of charred land and few whole pieces of the fuselage. It is all destruction."
Rescuers rushed the few survivors to hospitals, while emergency workers shrouded the dead in white sheets. One body lay on burned grass, an arm and a leg poking out.
Later, a long convoy of black hearses rolled onto the airport grounds to carry bodies to a makeshift morgue set up at Madrid's main convention center - the facility used for relatives to identify bodies after the 2004 Islamic terror bombings that killed 191 people on Madrid commuter trains.
A steady stream of hearses arrived at the morgue under police escort Wednesday night. Mourners went to a special waiting area, avoiding photographers and reporters.
It was not immediately clear what went wrong. Alvarez said the jetliner had barely gotten airborne when it veered right, crashed and broke into pieces.
Spanair, a Spanish company wholly owned by Scandinavian Airlines, said it did not know what caused the accident. Alvarez said investigators ruled out foul play and considered the crash an accident. She said the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered.
While preparing for a first takeoff attempt, the plane's pilot reported a breakdown in a gauge that measures temperature outside the plane. The gauge was fixed, delaying the departure, said Spanair spokeswoman Susana Vergara. It was on the second takeoff attempt that the plane crashed.
Spanair Flight JK5022 originated in Barcelona and was headed for the city of Las Palmas.
In Germany, Lufthansa said it issued tickets to seven people who checked in for the flight and four of those were from Germany. It was unclear whether they were German citizens.
Sweden's Foreign Ministry said two Swedes were on the plane. It said one was at a hospital but the other was unaccounted for.
The accident was Spain's worst air disaster since 1983, when a Boeing 747 operated by the Colombian airline Avianca crashed near Madrid on landing approach, killing 181 people.