Steve Shaw, a vice-president of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority said it appeared everyone survived but 43 of the passengers suffered minor injuries.

Airport officials said the Airbus A340 skidded about 200 metres past the runway as it came in to land.

Shaw said there were 297 passengers and 12 crew on board Air France flight 358.

"As far as we know at this stage the passengers were able to flee the aircraft before the fire broke out," Shaw said.

Air France also announced in Paris that there were no fatalities in the crash.

"I saw lightning, maybe the plane had already been hit by lightning that's because just as we landed the lights went off"

Roel Bramar,
passenger on flight 358

Officials said the plane was an Air France Airbus A340 from Paris that was trying to land at Canada's busiest airport just after 4pm (2000 GMT) when it ran into trouble.

There was a storm with lightning and strong wind gusts in the area at the time.

Witnesses told Canadian television that the plane had apparently skidded off the runway after landing.

Lightning and flames

It was too early to say for sure what might have caused the plane to miss the end of the runway but witnesses and survivors said it appeared lightning had struck the plane.

A passenger on the plane, Roel Bramar, told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: "I saw lightning, maybe the plane had already been hit by lightning that's because just as we landed the lights went off.

"The reason I'm mentioning that is because just as we landed, the lights turned off. And that's unusual. So I'm sure that the bad weather was responsible."

Emergency services were quick on
the scene

Live TV pictures showed huge clouds of black smoke and orange flames coming from the fuselage of the plane, which was off the end of a runway lying close to a main traffic artery.

A row of emergency vehicles lined up behind the wreck, and a fire truck sprayed the flames with water.

The flaming ruin was next to the four-lane Highway 401, Canada's busiest highway.

Quick response

Witness Corey Marx, who was standing by the highway watching planes land at the airport, told CNN: "It was about 4 o'clock. It was getting really dark. All of a sudden lightning was happening. A lot of rain was coming down.

"It came in on the runway, everything looked good. Sounded good. Hit the runway nice and all of a sudden we heard its engines backing up."

Marx said rescue workers got to the plane within about 40 or 50 seconds.

All flights to or from the airport, Canada's largest and busiest, were cancelled or diverted to other cities.