More than 50 hurt after aircraft from Istanbul with 134 on board breaks into 3 upon landing; Dutch say terrorism doesn't appear to be a factor.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
A Turkish Airlines jetliner plummeted out of cloudy skies and plowed into a muddy field on approach to Amsterdam on Wednesday, but remarkably some 126 people - the vast majority of those aboard - survived. The nine dead included both pilots.
The Boeing 737-800 en route from Istanbul to Amsterdam broke into three pieces when it hit the ground about two miles short of the runway at Schiphol Airport at 1031 a.m. (0931 GMT, 0431 EST). The fuselage split in two, close to the cockpit, and the tail broke off.
But the wreckage didn't burn and scores of people walked away from it.
Survivor Huseyin Sumer told Turkish NTV television he crawled to safety out of a crack in the fuselage.
"We were about to land, we could not understand what was happening, some passengers screamed in panic but it happened so fast," Sumer said. He said the crash was over in five to 10 seconds.
Pieter van Vollenhoven, head of the Dutch Safety Authority investigating the cause, said it appeared the plane lost speed before crashing.
"You see that because of a lack of speed it literally fell out of the sky," he told NOS radio after visiting the crash site.
The plane's flight data recorders have been found and will be analyzed by experts.
Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said it was "a miracle" there were not more casualties.
"The fact that the plane landed on a soft surface and that there was no fire helped keep the number of fatalities low," he said.
Experts said that might also have helped avert a fire resulting from ruptured fuel tanks and lines on the underside of the fuselage, which appeared to have suffered very heavy impact damage.
Having almost reached its destination, the plane would have used up a major portion of its fuel.
Experts say crashes involving modern airliners are more survivable due to engineering advances that have resulted in strengthened structures and fire retardant technologies used for cabin seats and furnishings, as well as better emergency training of both cockpit and cabin crews.
The most dramatic example of passenger survival was in the Hudson River landing last month of a US Airways Airbus A320 that lost engine power when it struck a flock of birds. All 155 people on board lived.
At first, the Turkish Airline said everyone survived Wednesday's crash. But Michel Bezuijen, acting mayor of Haarlemmermeer, later reported the fatalities. He initially said 135 people were on board, but changed that figure to 134.
A spokesman for investigators said two pilots and an apprentice pilot were among the dead.
Six of the injured were in critical condition, 25 were seriously hurt and 24 had slight injuries, health authorities said. Survivors were taken to 11 hospitals including an emergency field hospital set up by the military in the central city of Utrecht.
The Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands, Selahattin Alpar, told Turkish news agency Anatolia there were 72 Turks and 32 Dutch people on board. There was no information on the nationality of other passengers.
Investigators will explore a wide range of possible causes of the crash, ranging from weather-related factors such as wind shear or icing, to fuel starvation, navigational errors, pilot fatigue or bird strikes. Experts say initial results could be made public soon because of the sophistication of the Boeing 737-800s black boxes, although the full report will likely not be ready before the end of the year.
Weather at the airport near the time of the crash was cloudy with slight drizzle.
But Candan Karlitekin, the head of the airline's board of directors, told reporters that visibility was good at the time of landing.
"Visibility was clear and around 5,000 yards. Some 550 yards before landing; the plane landed on a field instead of the runway," he said.
"We have checked the plane's documents and there is no problem concerning maintenance," he added.
Turkish Airlines chief Temel Kotil said the captain, Hasan Tahsin, was very experienced and a former air force pilot. Turkish officials said the plane was built in 2002 and last underwent thorough maintenance on Dec. 22.
Turkish Airlines has had several serious crashes since 1974, when 360 people died in the crash of a DC-10 near Paris after a cargo door came off. More recently, in 2003, 75 died when an RJ-100 missed the runway in heavy fog in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir.
Jim Proulx, a Boeing spokesman, said the company was sending a team to provide technical assistance to Dutch safety officials as they investigate. He declined to comment on media reports that at least four Boeing employees were on the plane.
Boeing's 737 is the world's best-selling commercial jet, with more than 6,000 orders since the model was launched in 1965.
The 737-800, a recent version of the plane, has a "very good safety record," said Bill Voss, president of the independent Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.
"It has been involved in a couple of accidents, but nothing that relates directly back to the aircraft," he said, adding that the plane had the best flight data recorders, which should give investigators a rich source of information about the crash.
Wim Kok, a spokesman for the Dutch Anti-Terror Coordinator's office, said terrorism did not appear to be a factor.
"There are no indications whatsoever (of a terror attack)," Kok said.
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