Dozens dead in Thai plane crash

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The Independent Online

A plane carrying many foreign tourists to one of Thailand's most popular resort islands crashed while landing in torrential rains Sunday, killing at least 87 people and injuring 43, officials said.

The deputy governor of Phuket island, Worapot Ratthaseema, said the dead included Irish, Israeli, Australian and British passengers. It was not immediately clear how many foreigners died, he said.

Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 plane was attempting to land in driving wind and rain but skidded off the runaway and broke into two parts. Survivors said they escaped from windows as fire and smoke consumed the plane.

The budget One-Two-Go Airlines domestic flight OG269 was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew to Phuket from the Thai capital, Bangkok, said Monrudee Gettuphan, spokeswoman for Airports of Thailand. There were 78 foreigners on board, she said.

Wallop Thainua, the country's deputy health minister, said 87 people were killed and 43 injured in the crash.

Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runaway. Searchers in masks converged on the plane, carrying away bodies wrapped in white sheets.

Many of the bodies were laid out in an airport building.

Survivors taken to local hospitals described a horrific scene as they escaped the burning plane.

"I saw passengers engulfed in fire as I stepped over them on the way out of the plane," survivor Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said on the Nation TV channel. "I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away."

Parinwit said he looked back and saw fires raging in the front and back of the plane. "I saw the plane in flames and there was a lot of smoke," he said.

Jikarat Wongtawan, a staffer at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, said 32 passengers were at the hospital, and 24 of them were foreigners. He said they included eight Britons, five Germans, five Iranians, two Israelis and at least one Australian, Irish and Canadian.

Other injured foreigners were taken to Phuket International Hospital.

Many had been planning to vacation at Phuket, an island popular with foreign tourists for its pristine beaches. It also was among the areas in Thailand hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami, which left more than 8,000 dead in the country.

Lt. Gen. Amporn Charuchinda, chief of the police forensic bureau, said authorities might move some of the bodies to a mortuary in Phang Nga province where some of the tsunami victims were kept.

The crash was the country's deadliest aviation accident since Dec. 11, 1998, when 101 people were killed when a Thai Airways plane crashed while trying to land in heavy rain at Surat Thani, 530 kilometers (330 miles) south of Bangkok. Forty-five people survived.

Officials said it was too early to establish the cause of Sunday's crash, but some said the weather was likely a factor.

"The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around (make another landing attempt) but the plane lost balance and crashed," said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand. "It was torn into two parts."

An Irish survivor, identified only as Sean, told of being badly burned on his arms, legs and back as he escaped the flames. Speaking to TITV from a Phuket hospital, he said he had sensed early on that there was a problem.

"You could tell when it was landing it was in trouble," he said. "It was making a noise, this bang."

One-Two-Go Airlines is one of several budget airlines started up in the past few years after Thailand's airline sector was liberalized. It began operations in December 2003, and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand.