Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Turkish plane crashes at Amsterdam airport

(CNN) -- A passenger jet carrying more than 130 people crashed into a field as it was coming into land in Amsterdam Wednesday. The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 broke into three pieces on impact, but fatalities were initially thought to be minimal.

There were conflicting reports about whether anyone was killed on the plane, which had 127 passengers and seven crew members.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said one person was killed, according to the semi-official Anatolia news agency.

The airline spokesman and Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said no one had died, but an airline official told CNN sister station CNN-Turk that at least one person was confirmed dead.

A news photographer at the scene said he saw an unknown number of bodies lying under a white blanket, said Maaike Voersma, a journalist with Dutch newspaper De Bers told CNN.

Twenty people were injured, said Candan Karlicetin, the airline's executive board chairman.

A passenger on the plane who spoke to Turkish network DHA said he saw injured people trapped and squeezed between the seats when he walked off the planeournalist Ivan Watson in Istanbul said Turkish media quoted one crash survivor as saying that the back of the plane hit the ground first. "He said it was not an extremely horrible situation, it was like being in turbulence. He said it was more like a sudden impact, then we stopped."

The Boeing 737-800, which originated from Istanbul, Turkey, was trying to land at Schiphol International Airport when it went down at about 10:40 a.m. local time, Dutch airport officials said.

Pictures from the scene showed the plane broken in three pieces. One tear was in front of the wing, splitting the "Turkish" logo in two, and a larger tear was farther back along he fuselage. Most of the injured were seated toward the back of the plane, which sustained the most damage, a passenger on the plane told Turkish station NTV. Many of the passengers simply walked off the plane through the cracks in the fuselage, witnesses told NTV. Images from the scene showed medics treating passengers on the ground next to the buckled hulk of the plane, while firefighters and police examined the aircraft.

Emergency exits were wide open and there was no signs of fire damage to the fuselage. Also visible was one of the aircraft's engines, apparently separated from the shattered remains of one of the wings.

The plane landed in a flat farmer's field near the airport, RTL journalist Greg Crouch told CNN. He said the weather at the time was partly sunny with no wind or rain.

Witnesses said they saw the nose of the plane pitch up suddenly before the crash, Crouch said.

A bank manager who was a passenger on the plane told NTV that there were no emergency announcements. The crew's last word to the cabin was an announcement to fasten seatbelts and prepare for landing, the bank manager said.

He said he felt the pilot giving more power to the engines before a sudden drop and then the crash. He described the crash as similar to a sudden impact that was over in a matter of seconds.

Kieran Daly, of Air Transport Intelligence said the impact had been severe but it could have been survivable because of the lack of fire. He added that there had been vast improvements in the materials used to build airplanes, meaning they did not burn as easily Daly also said that the Boeing 737-800 is a reliable aircraft that has been successful and safe in service.

"They really are pretty much state-of-the-art airliners with every imaginable technical benefit the industry has come up with over the years," Daly told CNN.

"You would be optimistic that they would be quite survivable in an accident." Daly said the Turkish aviation industry has a "pretty good record" of safety, and that Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, has a "very good record."

The airline's last accident was of a small commuter jet in 2003, he said. It was a fatal crash that happened at a remote airfield in eastern Turkey, he said. "Their mainline operation is safe," Daly said. "Their pilots are well thought of."

The last accident at Schiphol Airport happened in December 2003 when an EasyJet flight carrying 103 passengers to London collided while with a lamppost while taxiing during icy conditions, according to Aviation Safety Network's Web site. The crash caused significant damage to the aircraft, but no one was killed.

The other two most recent accidents at Schiphol -- in 1998 and 1997 -- also resulted in no fatalities, according to the network.

The last fatal incident at the Amsterdam airport happened in April 1994 when a KLM aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff as it tried to return to Schiphol. Three of the 24 passengers and crew members on board were killed.