153 perish in Madrid plane crash

One hundred and fifty three people have been killed when a Spanair plane swerved off a runway and caught fire at Barajas airport in Madrid. Plumes of thick smoke could be seen coming from the plane's left engine.

The aircraft, which according to Spanair was carrying 172 people, including the crew, was taking off for the Canary Islands when the accident happened. The nineteen survivors are in hospital receiving treatment for burns.

Emergency services were at the scene trying to establish what went wrong. A Spanair press release says the cause of the accident could have been an engine fault.

A telephone hotline has been set up to provide information about passengers.

An investigation has begun and the aircraft's black box flight recorder has been recovered.

The plane involved in the accident was a McDonnell 82, or MD82, part of the MD80 series. The planes have been in service since 1980 but production ceased in 1999. However, more than 1,100 are still in service with many airlines across the world.

The plane has a very good safety record with only eighteen major accidents involving the series being recorded. The airline Spanair also has an impeccable safety record: it hasn't had an accident since its inception in 1986.