“Someone dragged me to the emergency exit door and threw me out before I realised what was going on.” Eight-year-old Ji Yifan apparently knows little how narrowly he had escaped death.

Ji is among 54 survivors from the Brazilian-made Embraer E-190 jet that crashed upon landing in Yichun, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on Tuesday night.

At least 42 people died in the crash.

The evacuation slide, which was also on fire, broke just as Ji was sliding down. “I fell to the ground. Again someone dragged me aside,” he said in his hospital bed, bandaged on his right cheek and with bruises on his face, neck and arms.

A man who was slightly injured in the head remembered strong turbulence and luggage raining down even as the crew announced the plane was about to land.

“Everyone panicked. Those sitting in the back began rushing to the front of the cabin. There was smog, which I knew was toxic. I held my breath and ran on until I saw a burning hole on one side of the cabin. I crawled out and ran at least 100 metres to ensure I was safe.” Altogether 96 people — including five crew members — were on the plane, said sources with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Five were children.

The captain, Qi Quanjun, survived with serious injuries.

Lying on a hospital bed with a bandaged face, Mr. Qi was unable to recall coherently the sequence of events. He said he couldn't remember anything when asked weather he had made an emergency landing.

The black boxes were retrieved on Wednesday morning, and experts are decoding the devices.

The city's top official Xu Zhaojun said earlier on Wednesday the captain had talked with air traffic controllers before landing. “He said he could see lights on the runway, and was ready for landing,” said Mr. Xu, quoting airport authorities.

Several survivors however remembered the plane touching the ground before it reached the airport. “I looked out and couldn't see anything — it was pitch dark and there was no light,” said Xue Xilai, a survivor who was sitting in the 10th row, close to the emergency exit.

Investigators said the plane wreckage lay about 2 km from the runway.

Vice Minister of civil aviation Li Jian said, “It's hard to make any assumption [on the cause] right now, but we will publish, step by step, what we can rule out.”

The jet broke into two pieces before it smashed into the ground and exploded. Most of the casualties were found in the back of the cabin.China had maintained a remarkable air travel safety record of six years, statistics from the CAAC show.

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