15 Chicago-area passengers among those who survived plane crash in Mexico

DES PLAINES, Ill. -- An Aeromexico flight carrying 103 people crashed just after taking off from an airport in northwestern Mexico, forcing passengers to escape via emergency slides before the aircraft went up in flames. Everyone survived.

A Chicago area priest, was among the 15 Chicago-area passengers on the flight,.

Father Ezequil Sanchez of The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines spoke to reporters from his hospital bed near Durango, Mexico. The priest says just before take off, the airfield was being pelted by hail and pouring rain. In the moments before take off, Sanchez wondered why the pilot didn’t postpone the departure.

"To be honest with you, I thought that was it. I'm just very glad we weren't able to climb any higher, or fly any faster. I think that would have made a big difference", the father said.

Father Sanchez had plans to celebrate his 50th birthday, and was accompanied on the flight with about 15 others from the Chicago area.

Anabel Estrada, a passenger from southwest suburbanJoliet, told CNN, "It felt like the aircraft was struggling to reach takeoff speed amid the heavy rain and wind before it hit the ground twice."

"It began to lift up and that plane did not have enough velocity," she said. "It was going against the air, the rain and I don't know what else, but it didn't have enough speed."

Another Illinois resident, Al Herrera, 35, was in Durango for a baptism and was returning to Chicago when the plane crashed, according to his sister, Gabriela Herrera. Al Herrera jumped into action, helping elderly passengers and others off the plane before evacuating himself, she told CNN.

"My mom saw the plane on the news first and had a feeling it was the plane (Al) was on," she said. "The plane crash was really horrible to watch on TV. There was fire everywhere. Smoke was coming out. I got the news before I saw it on TV, thankfully. I knew he was OK, but he did mention other passengers were badly injured."

Al Herrera's employer, the marketing firm Dean Houston, where Herrera is a web designer, said his heroic actions weren't a surprise.

"From everyone that works with him on a daily basis, they describe him as a big teddy bear," the company said in a statement. "Hearing that he helped some senior citizens off the plane, that embodies the gentleman we know. He's a people pleaser and a team player."

Authorities in Mexico said there were no fatalities among the 97 passengers and four crew members aboard the Embraer 190 jet that crashed moments after takeoff in Durango.

Dozens were transferred to hospitals after the crash. Sixty-four have been released, according to the airline, and Mexico's Health Ministry reported Wednesday that 25 people remain hospitalized.

Among them are the pilot, who is in serious condition after a five-hour surgery, and an 8-year-old girl who suffered burns over a quarter of her body, Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Rios said.