Even before her plane took off, Ashley Garcia sensed danger coming.
Torrential rain was thrashing the runway. Thick gray clouds covered everything outside her passenger window.
But most terrifying was the brutal wind, which was so intense it made the wings of the plane shake.
“I was like: ‘We are not about to take off. This is insane,’” the 17-year-old from Chicago said.
But Aeromexico Flight 2431 pushed forward anyway. Garcia started recording with her phone.
Seconds later, the wind “pushed us right back down, and we were just bouncing,” Garcia said. The twin-engine jet struck the ground, went back up in the air, then crashed much more violently before coming to a fiery stop.
“I really thought I was not going to make it,” Garcia said.
She’s not the only passenger stunned that’s she’s alive. All 99 passengers and four crew members survived Tuesday’s crash of Flight 2431, en route from Durango, Mexico, to Mexico City. Seventeen people were still receiving medical attention Thursday.
“I just grabbed my daughter and went as hard as I could,” Dorelia Rivera told CNN affiliate WLS about her escape. “I honestly thought I was going to break her arm because I finally grabbed onto her hard enough and I’m like, ‘I’m not letting you go.’”
As passengers swarmed toward the emergency slides, flames were shooting out from the front cabin.
But passenger Al Herrera walked away with just bruises on his arm and a passport caked with mud from the scene.
“I fell from the sky and survived,” Herrera said, as he waited for a flight to take him home to Chicago. “People die when planes crash. And here I am, as a survivor, taking another plane.”
Why you’re more likely to survive plane crashes now
Despite the violent, fiery end to Flight 2431, the fact that so many people survived doesn’t surprise aviation experts.
“It’s actually getting to be more typical – more the rule than the exception,” said Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the Department of Transportation.
In fact, no one dies in 87% of air crashes, Schiavo said, citing the International Civil Aviation Organization.
“It’s the science of crashworthiness that has really improved over the last 20 years to help people survive a crash,” she said.
Many safety improvements have stemmed from earlier tragedies, such as the crash of Delta Flight 191 in Dallas exactly 33 years ago Thursday.
“For example, changing the seat fabric and the insulation on the seats … gave passengers 40 to 60 extra seconds before the cabin filled with deadly fumes.”
What passengers can do to help save their lives
- Don't get drunk
- Wear sensible shoes that are easy to run in
- Know where the plane's exits are
- Wear clothes covering your arms and legs
- Source: CNN Transportation Analyst Mary Schiavo
And these days, in order for a plane to operate, “you have to show that everybody can get off that plane” in 90 seconds, Schiavo said.
“The reason for the 90 seconds is that is the time that studies have shown that you can get off before the plane starts burning; before there can be a very large fire or explosions; or before fumes fill the cabins.”
While authorities haven’t determined the cause of Tuesday’s crash, Schiavo said she suspects a wind shear or a microburst may have played a role.
A wind shear is a change in wind speed and/or direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. A microburst is a localized column of sinking air that drops down in a thunderstorm.
Rivera said she was shocked that the plane took off at all.
“I travel all the time for work, at least once or twice a week, and I said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to leave,’” Rivera told WLS. “And then lo and behold, we started moving and I said, ‘OK, I guess we are going.’ I really was surprised that we were going to leave with the weather the way it was.
But it may be months before officials release an official cause of the crash.
’I still see the flames’
More than a day after the crash, Herrera said he can’t close his eyes without reliving the trauma.
“It’s still fresh in my mind. I can’t close my eyes right now. I still see the flames,” he said. “The lady in front of me held my arm because I was sobbing.”
While modern safety precautions may have prevented deaths from the crash, the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez – a passenger from Illinois – says there’s another reason:
“We didn’t lose anyone, and that was a miracle,” he said.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago in Mexico City and CNN’s Anna Melgar, Thom Patterson, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Marlena Baldacci and Haley Brink contributed to this report.