Plane crash in Turkish mountains leaves 57 dead

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An Atlasjet plane crashed on a mountain shortly before it was due to land in south-west Turkey yesterday, killing all 57 people on board, including a six-week-old girl. The cause was not immediately known.

"The seats were detached and all over the place. Some of the seat-belts were still around the bodies," said Mustafa Dagci, a medic and one of the first people to reach the site.

The MD-83 plane, carrying 50 passengers and seven crew members, took off from Istanbul around 1am local time and was headed to Isparta on a flight of about one hour. It went off the radar just before it was due to land at the airport. At about 7am, a rescue helicopter reached the plane's wreckage near the village of Yesilyurt, in Isparta province, and reported that no one had survived the crash, said Tuncay Doganer, Atlasjet's chief executive. He said the cause was unknown, but ruled out technical failure or maintenance problems and said that visibility was good.

Ali Ariduru, head of Turkey's civil aviation authority, said there were no indications that terrorism was the cause. "There is nothing to suggest sabotage," he said.

In the past, militants seeking autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority have set off bombs in urban and tourist areas along the Mediterranean coast in western Turkey. The area where the crash happened is not a traditional stronghold of the PKK, a Kurdish rebel group that has bases in northern Iraq.

Investigators have found the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which will help them determine the cause of the crash.

"As a nation, our pain is great because of this regrettable accident," said the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He said initial information indicated that the plane was turning when its rear hit the mountainside.

Ali Ceylan said his 22-year-old daughter-in-law and her six-week-old daughter had died in the crash. The baby was born in Istanbul and the family was returning to their home in Isparta. "We were going to see our grandchild for the first time," he said. "It's very hard for us. It's enough to make us go mad."

Cengiz Dincer, a man at the crash site, said two friends were on the plane after a day trip to Istanbul.

"I keep thinking they'll appear from the site, it is difficult to accept that they are gone," he said. "Of course, it is God's will."

Atlasjet said the wreckage of the plane was found on a mountain, Turbe Tepe ("Shrine Peak"), about 1,500 metres high, and that rescuers had difficulty reaching the site because of the rugged terrain. Much of the wreckage lay amid snow patches 200 metres from the top of the mountain.

Turkish media released a list of passengers. All the names were Turkish.

Atlasjet, a private airline established in 2001, operates regular flights inside Turkey and chartered flights to Europe and other foreign destinations.