Ten Britons feared dead in Thai plane crash

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The Independent Online

Ten British tourists were feared dead today after a plane crashed on the Thai holiday island of Phuket.

A number of Irish holidaymakers were also caught up in the tragedy yesterday, which claimed 88 lives in total.

Britain's ambassador to Thailand Quinton Quayle, who travelled to Phuket with a 10-strong embassy team, was unable to give an exact British death toll. But he said: "I can confirm that, sadly, we believe that several British citizens have died on the flight.

"Identifying victims positively is a very difficult process after an accident in which the plane caught fire and unfortunately many of the people on board were disfigured.

"We want to get it right and that requires some painstaking work by my staff.

"As soon as we have got definitive information, we will, of course, release it."

He said he had spoken to the two confirmed British survivors, who were in "good shape and pretty good heart".

"We helped them to communicate with their families and friends in the UK," he said.

It could be weeks before the cause of the crash is known, Thailand's transport minister Theera Haocharoen said.

But survivors spoke of the pilot, who died in the crash, struggling to land during a monsoon storm.

The plane skidded off the runway and then ran through a low retaining wall and split in two.

A total of 123 passengers - mostly foreign tourists - plus seven crew, were on board the budget One-Two-Go Airlines domestic flight from Bangkok to Phuket.

Emergency workers pulled 88 bodies from the wreckage and 42 survivors, many suffering from burns, were taken to hospital after the crash.

The transport minister said the flight's two data recorders, or "black boxes", had been recovered from the wreckage - but it was too early to say what caused the crash.

"The officials have found the black boxes and will send them for analysis to US," he said.

"Hopefully, we will learn in a few weeks the cause of accident."

Phuket's deputy governor Worapot Ratthaseema said British passengers were among the fatalities, along with Irish, French, German, Israeli, and Australian travellers.

Unconfirmed reports put the British death toll at around 10.

The Thai Ministry of Public Health later issued a partial list of 31 foreign survivors, which included five Britons.

A spokesman for Bangkok Phuket Hospital confirmed the names of six British survivors they are treating as Benjamin Zachary Green, 24, Peter James Hill, 35, Ashley Scott Harrow, 27, Christopher Edward Cooley, 23, William Burke, 23, and Mrs Mahsa Fatoorechi.

Mr Cooley is reportedly from Londonderry and was travelling with his best friend, from the same area.

Mr Cooley was said to be in intensive care suffering from burns, and a 32-year-old unnamed British woman was also in intensive care in a critical condition.

Mr Green, Mr Hill and Mr Scott Harrow all suffered shock and superficial wounds, including cuts and burns to their hands and faces, according to reports.

Irish survivor John O'Donnell said: "You could tell there was a problem. The plane was flying around trying to land. It was making some noises and it was bad rain.

"There was a lot of smoke in the plane. I got out through the doors and I came out on to the wing. I got very badly burned on my face, my arms, my back, my legs."

Director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand Chaisak Angsuwan said weather played a part in the crash.

He said: "The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around but the plane lost balance and crashed. It was torn into two parts."

Television footage showed its smoking remains lying on the ground, flanked by ranks of emergency vehicles, as firemen tried to douse the flames.

Passengers were left desperately trying to escape from windows as fire and smoke filled the cabin.

Canadian tourist Mildred Furlong, a 23-year-old waitress from British Columbia, managed to escape with only minor injuries.

Moments after the crash, she remembered seeing a passenger in front of her covered in flames and another bleeding from the head yelling: "My boyfriend. My boyfriend."

She said: "As soon as we hit, everything went dark and everything fell. I felt faint. You felt like you were going to pass out right away."

As smoke filled the cabin, she said she climbed through the broken window and on to a wing, where she and others slid to safety.

Parinwit Chusaeng, who suffered slight burns, told a local TV channel: "I saw passengers engulfed in fire as I stepped over them on the way out of the plane. I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away."

One-Two-Go Airlines is the no-frills arm of Orient Thai Airways and started up in December 2003 following the liberalisation of Thailand's airline sector.

In a statement, it said: "One-Two-Go Airlines is deeply sorry for this accident and we will accept all responsibility for the passengers in this situation. We will do our best for your convenience."

For Phuket, which attracts millions of tourists every year, the tragedy is the second major blow in recent years, after it was hit by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

An inquiry line has been set up for friends and family of people suspected to have been travelling on the plane to get further information, on 0207 008 0000.