Alberto Herrera could tell something wasn't right when the Aeromexico plane he was traveling aboard took off from Mexico Tuesday.
"After the plane takes off we start hitting a lot patchy, patchy, really hard turbulence," he told NBC 5 Wednesday. "You can feel the wind and you can feel the hail hitting the airplane like at maximum speed. It’s kind of like we hit the storm, that hail storm, right at its peak so the wind was insane."
Herrera was among several from Chicago onboard the flight that crashed in the northern Mexican state of Durango while en route to Mexico City. Officials said 85 people were injured on that plane.
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"You say a little prayer and you hope for the best and you hope you said 'I love you' to the loved ones you left behind here in Mexico and in Chicago," Herrera said.
All 103 people on board made it off the plane.
After the crash, Herrera said he was joined by fellow passenger Rev. Esequiel Sanchez, from The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Des Plaines.
"I asked him if he was hurt. He said he had broken his arm and I asked him if I could help him, if he needed a splint. He said no… and then we said a prayer for everybody on board," Herrera said. "There was like 20 of us, we didn’t know if everybody got out we were just hoping for the best that everybody got out."
Sanchez was among those taken to the hospital where his condition has stabilized.
"He sustained some injuries but we are grateful to learn he is alert and resting," the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a statement. "We pray for Fr. Sanchez and everyone affected by this plane crash."
The civil defense office of Durango state said the plane landed in a field near the airport for the state capital, also named Durango. The agency published photos of a smoking but seemingly relatively intact plane lying on its belly in a field. Lines of ambulances were waiting at the accident site.
Officials said 49 people had been hospitalized — most with minor injuries. The pilot suffered the most serious injury, a cervical lesion that required surgery. Some people had burns on a quarter of their bodies, said Durango state Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Ros.
The plane tried to take off from Durango city in a severe storm Tuesday. Passenger Dorelia Rivera, of Elmwood Park, told NBC 5 she thought "why in the world are we even taking off.”
“Within a couple minutes the plane just started shaking,” she said from a hospital in Durango. “We heard a loud noise behind us—and the next thing we knew it was starting to smoke and fire.”
She said people were clamouring to get off the plane. She grabbed the only two things she could: her daughter’s hand and the medicine the child needs to stay alive, she said.
“Somebody literally pushed her back so they could get through,” Rivera said.
But she doesn’t blame the person, she added.
Other members of her group suffered burns and broken bones, she said. Rivera was one of nine passengers from Chicago on the flight.
Gerardo Ruiz Eparza, head of Mexico's Transport Department, said that "the plane fell upon takeoff." He said there were 97 passengers and four crew members aboard.