Nine die as Amsterdam airliner crashes

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The Independent Online

A Turkish Airlines plane with 135 people aboard slammed into a muddy field while attempting to land at Amsterdam's main airport today. Nine people were killed and more than 50 were injured, many seriously, officials said.

The Boeing 737-800 broke into three pieces on impact about two miles short of a runway at Schiphol Airport. The fuselage split in two, close to the cockpit, and the tail broke off. One engine lay almost intact near the wreck in the muddy field. The other was some 200 yards from the plane and heavily damaged, an Associated Press photographer at the scene said.



The bodies of three crew members in the cockpit were still in the plane's wreckage, an investigator told reporters at Schiphol. It was not yet clear if the pilots were among them.

"We have to leave them so that we can investigate before we take the cockpit apart," he said.



Flight TK1951 left Istanbul's Ataturk Airport at 8:22 a.m. (0622 GMT, 0122 EST) bound for Amsterdam, then crashed at 10.31am (09.31 GMT).

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.

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.

The fact that the plane landed in a muddy, plowed field may have contributed to making the accident less deadly by absorbing much of the force of the hard impact, experts said. It may 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.

Hours after the crash, emergency crews still swarmed around the plane's cockpit.

At first, the airline said everyone survived. But at a news conference later, Michel Bezuijen, acting mayor of Haarlemmermeer, reported the fatalities.

"At this moment there are nine victims to mourn and more than 50 injured," he said. At least 25 of the injured were in serious condition and crew members were among those hurt.

He said there was no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency said pilots Hasan Tahsin, Olcay Ozgur and Murat Sezer were not injured. The agency quoted Turkish civil aviation officials but did not identify them by name.

The Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands, Selahattin Alpar, told Anatolia there were 72 Turks and 32 Dutch people on board. There was no information on the nationality of other passengers.

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 (4,500 meters). Some 550 yards (500 meters) 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, 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.

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.

Gideon Evers, spokesman of the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations, said the cause of the crash remained unclear. There was no indication that the crash had anything to do with fuel levels, Evers said, adding that regulations require all commercial flights to carry ample reserves.

"Certainly it appears to be an unusual circumstance, but as always the sensible course of action is to wait for the results of the investigation," he said.

According to mandatory limits, a passenger airliner must carry sufficient fuel to get to its destination, remain in holding patterns for 45 minutes, possibly divert to an alternate airport, hold for another 45 minutes, and then carry out a normal approach.

The initial impact with the ground appeared to have sheared off the hot engines, which could have ignited leaking fuel, and the loose soil would have absorbed it — further decreasing the risk of fire.

The Dutch government pledged a swift investigation.

"Our thoughts go out to the people who were in the plane and of course also to those who are now waiting in uncertainty to hear about the fate of their loved ones," a government statement said.

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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