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Eyewitness Report: Fine Air Flight 101

By: William Bartomeu

 "X" marks the front door of our store.
On August 7, 1997, at 12:35pm EST, a DC-8 cargo jet crashed in our store (see photo) in Miami, ten seconds after takeoff from the Miami International Airport. We were located just on the parth of the runway, across 72nd Avenue. We were the most affected by this crash as the plane hit our front door, the only entry/exit. Fortunately we and two customers inside the store at the moment of the crash, managed to escape alive, however the crew of the airplane (4) and one person in a car in the parking lot, died in the accident. The two injured persons that were reported on the news were the wife of one of our customers, and Mrs. Maria Bartomeu, my wife (see photo). The rest of us suffered some cuts and contusions, and none was burned.

Our door was blocked by a pile of cars and the wreckage of the plane, surrounded in flames and dense smoke, but we managed to escape alive by climbing over the wreckage and into the street to the south, where there was less fire (see photo). This is the worst nightmare anyone can live through, as we all thought that we were trapped inside, or would be killed by one of several explosions that occured from the 20,000 pounds of fuel loaded on the airplane. It will take a long time for us to forget; we were born again.

It is a miracle that there were no more casualties on the ground. As you can see in the photos, the plane crossed one of the busiest avenues in Miami, 72nd (see photo). This is one of the most important arteries to the airport.

Five minutes before the crash, we received a shipment which was left just inside the front door of the store. My wife Maria was opening the boxes to review the content, so she was less than three feet away from the door. She saw the plane coming toward us in a straight path at incredible speed. It felt like an earthquake. The plane crossed the avenue and went directly toward our cars, destroying, as far as I know, 10 or 11 cars parked in front of the store. Unfortunately, one of those cars was occupied by a man who was bringing lunch to his wife, who worked in another store in the same complex. He was the only known victim on the ground.

An amateur photographer captured Fine Air Flight 101 just before crashing into Bartomeu's model railroad store.
Due to the strike of UPS, which is located only about 200 yards from our complex, there were several police units in that sector, and they arrived on the scene in a matter of seconds. It was, however, a complete scene of chaos as the images were horrendous, and of course in the beginning, noone knew if it was a passenger or cargo plane. The first department arrived just a few minutes after the crash, and within about 4 minutes started to spray foam all over. The flames did not die for several hours.

To give an idea of the intense heat produced by the flames, when my car was removed from the parking lot, a big ball of aluminum was found on the bottom of the car in the floor. It was the motor that had melted. The car had no motor at all, according to the people who took it out of there. I'm still trying to figure out where my car is, and the cars that belong to my customers. The heat was so intense that the security video camera of the business next to me, which was 50 feet away from our door, completely melted. The eletrical cables in the walls of our store were melted and had to be changed a distance of more than 150 yards.

As a final result of the crash, the damage has been extremely severe for us. We had to close to business for more than one week, and we have been forced to move from our old store to a new location. All of our displays were either burned or damaged by water and an incredible oily black smoke film covering all the units and boxes. Only the units boxed in our warehouse appeared to be in good condition, but and even with some boxes just lightly covered by this film of dust, each unit had to be individually inspected and tested.

[Editor's Note: For more information on the events surrounding the crash of Fine Air Flight 101, please view the accident record in the AirDisaster.Com Accident Database.]

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