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Plane skids off runway in Jamaica during rainstorm

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Passengers on American Airlines Flight 331 had endured the crowded airports and delays of holiday travel, and were moments from their Caribbean destination. Suddenly, everything seemed to spin out of control.

Touching down Tuesday night in a fierce rain, the Boeing 737-800 slammed into the runway of Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport. The aircraft skidded to a halt at the edge of the sea, leaving battered and bruised passengers screaming in panic as the smell of jet fuel spread through the darkened cabin, which had cracked open in places.

"I just wanted to get the hell out of there, as far as I could, because I could smell the fumes, and I knew that if it blew, it could be a pretty big fireball," said Gary Wehrwein, 67, who was traveling with his wife, Pilar Abaurrea, from Keene, New Hampshire.

All 154 people aboard survived, with 92 taken to hospitals and 13 admitted, but none of the injuries were considered to be life-threatening, said Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that it had taken possession of the flight data recorders from the plane.

Investigators had been working Wednesday to retrieve a second recorder, which was expected to have captured the pilots' voices during the final leg of the flight. Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, said both devices will be brought back to U.S. labs to be decoded.

U.S. air safety investigators traveled to Jamaica on Wednesday to help officials there determine how the jetliner "overshot the end of the runway while landing in heavy rain, crossed a road and stopped on a beach," the NTSB said.

The team included five NTSB aviation specialists as well as technical advisers from the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines, Boeing and GE Aircraft Engines. However, Holloway said Jamaica officials would lead the investigation.

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