MADRID, Spain – Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez arrived at Madrid’s Barajas Airport to see off a fellow priest when he heard that a plane had crashed at a nearby terminal just minutes earlier.
Without hesitating, he headed to a room where family members and friends of the plane’s passengers already were waiting anxiously for news about their loved ones.
“I went just to be close to those suffering, and I asked God to give them strength,” Father Garcia told Catholic News Service Aug. 21, the day after the crash. “I said, ‘My God, my God.’ I was there to take their hands, let them take mine, to pray, to show kindness.”
At least 153 of the 172 people onboard the Spanair plane were killed when the aircraft crashed while taking off en route to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, two hours away by air.
Many of the passengers were families on vacation. Two of the 19 survivors were children.
Among those waiting for news was Pedro Lorenzo, whose only daughter, Sonsoles, was a flight attendant onboard the faulty jet. She did not survive the crash.
Father Garcia said he called the grieving father later that night.
“I tried to console him, but he lost his only child,” Father Garcia told CNS.
Spanair spokesman Sergio Allard said at a news conference that the cause of the crash would be determined by a team of investigators that included the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
The 15-year-old plane was an American-made McDonnell Douglas MD-82.
Accounts from officials and surviving passengers point to technical problems before takeoff, which was delayed for nearly two hours.
According to local authorities, one of the plane’s two engines caught fire shortly after it lifted from the tarmac during its second attempt at takeoff. Witnesses said they saw flames and heard an explosion before the plane went down in a ravine about 2:45 p.m.
The crash was the worst at Spain’s busiest airport since 1983, when two Spanish carriers collided, killing 93 people.
As Spain and the city of Las Palmas declared three days of mourning, Father Garcia praised the country’s solidarity during the incident.
President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos “left their vacations wearing black ties to be with the Spanish people. That gives me hope,” Father Garcia said.
Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, offered condolences and prayers for the victims and their families on behalf of the Spanish bishops.
“We ask the God of life for eternal rest for (those who died) and the recuperation of the wounded. To the families of the deceased, the bishops of Madrid (are with them) in these moments of intense pain, to comfort them in their faith and their hope,” he said in a statement.
Pope Benedict XVI also offered his condolences and prayers for the victims. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, conveyed the pope’s sadness and concern in a telegram to Cardinal Rouco.
The pope, he said, was offering fervent prayers for the deceased and their families and asked Cardinal Rouco to assure the injured that the pope was praying for their “full and speedy recovery.”