HAARLEMMERLIEDE, Netherlands (AP) - A Turkish Airlines jetliner
plummeted out of the mist and plowed into a muddy field Wednesday
near Amsterdam's main airport, but nearly everyone on board - 125
people - survived. The nine dead included both pilots.
The Boeing 737-800 was en route from Istanbul to Amsterdam, carrying 134 people when it suddenly lost speed and fell out of the
sky about two miles short of the runway at Schiphol Airport,
The jetliner broke into three pieces upon impact: the fuselage
tore in two near the cockpit and the tail was ripped off. Despite
the catastrophic impact, the wreckage did not burn and scores of
people walked away.
Survivor Huseyin Sumer said 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 on Turkish NTV, adding that the crash was over
in 5 to 10 seconds.
Another survivor, Jihad Alariachi, said there was no warning
from the cockpit to brace for landing before the ground loomed up
through the mist and drizzle.
"We braked really hard, but that's normal in a landing. And
then the nose went up. And then we bounced ... with the nose
aloft," she said, adding that she and her sister scrambled out an
More than 50 people were injured, about half of them seriously.
Authorities said the toll could have been far higher if the
plane had not gone down in mud, which lessened the impact and
helped avert a fire from breaking out in the ruptured fuel tanks
and lines on the underside of the fuselage.
In addition, having reached its destination, the plane would
have used up most of its fuel, lessening the chances of a
fuel-driven fire. Authorities would not say whether the plane sent
out a distress call before the crash.
"The fact that the plane landed on a soft surface and that
there was no fire helped keep the number of fatalities low,"
Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said, adding that it was
"a miracle" there were not more casualties.
The head of the Dutch Safety Authority, Pieter van Vollenhoven,
said the plane appeared to have lost speed before crashing and
witnesses said it dropped from about 300 feet.
"You see that because of a lack of speed it literally fell out
of the sky," he told NOS radio after visiting the crash site.
Four Boeing employees traveling on business were aboard the
plane, according to Jim Proulx, a spokesman for the company. All
four are based in the Seattle area, he said, but he would not
provide further details until their families had been notified.
He said Boeing was sending a team to provide technical
assistance to Dutch safety officials as they investigate. The
plane's flight data recorders were recovered and were to be
analyzed by experts.
Experts say crashes involving modern airliners are more
survivable due to engineering advances that have resulted in
strengthened structures and fire retardant technologies used for
cabin seats and furnishings, as well as better emergency training
of cockpit and cabin crews.
The most dramatic example of passenger survival was the Hudson
River landing last month of a US Airways Airbus A320 that lost
engine power when it struck a flock of birds. All 155 passengers
and crew lived despite the watery landing.
As with Wednesday's crash, most of the survivable accidents have
occurred at or near airports, and in most cases, the pilots
maintained control, maneuvering to soften the final impact.
"What's notable about all those is that we've seen a number of
recent-model aircraft involved in accidents that have been
survivable," said William Voss, a former Federal Aviation
Administration official and president of the independent Flight
Safety Foundation based in Alexandria, Va.
"Decades of lessons have obviously been applied to cabin design
and its survivability, and the cabin crews are doing their jobs on
evacuation," Voss said.
At first, Turkish Airlines said everyone survived Wednesday's
crash. But Michel Bezuijen, acting mayor of Haarlemmermeer, later
reported the fatalities. He initially said 135 people were on
board, but changed that figure to 134.
Investigators said two pilots and an apprentice pilot were among
the dead. Hours after the crash, emergency crews still swarmed
around the cockpit, where the pilots' bodies were later removed.
A retired pilot who listened to a radio exchange between air
traffic controllers and the aircraft shortly before the crash said
he didn't hear anything unusual.
"Everything appeared normal," said Joe Mazzone, a former Delta
Air Lines captain who flew with the carrier for 23 years. "They
were given clearance to descend to 7,000 feet."
Just before the end of the 52-second recording - captured by the
Web site LiveATC.net - the last thing heard is the controllers
giving the tower frequency to the pilots and instructing them to
get clearance to land, said Mazzone, who lives in Auburn, Ala. He
added that the pilots acknowledged the instruction.
There was no way to tell from the Web recording if there was
more communication between the aircraft and the officials at the
airport or exactly how long the exchange came prior to the crash,
though Mazzone said the point where the transmission ended would
likely have been 2 to 4 minutes before the plane would have
Six of the injured were in critical condition, 25 were seriously
hurt and 24 had slight injuries, health authorities said. Survivors
were taken to 11 hospitals including an emergency field hospital
set up by the military in the central city of Utrecht.
There were 72 Turks and 32 Dutch citizens on board, the Turkish
ambassador to the Netherlands, Selahattin Alpar, told the Anatolia
Investigators will explore a wide range of possible causes,
ranging from weather-related factors to insufficient fuel or loss,
navigational errors, pilot fatigue or bird strikes. Experts say
initial results could be made public soon because of the
sophistication of the Boeing 737-800s black box, although the full
report will likely not be ready before the end of the year.
Weather at the airport at the time of the crash was cloudy with
a slight drizzle.
Candan Karlitekin, the head of the airline's board of directors,
told reporters that visibility was clear at about 5,000 yards.
"Some 550 yards before landing, the plane landed on a field
instead of the runway," he said, adding the plane's documents were
checked and there was no maintenance problems.
Turkish Airlines chief Temel Kotil said the captain, Hasan
Tahsin, was an experienced former air force pilot. Turkish
officials said the plane was built in 2002 and last underwent
thorough maintenance on Dec. 22.
Turkish Airlines has had several serious crashes since 1974,
when 360 people died in the crash of a DC-10 near Paris after a
cargo door came off. More recently, in 2003, 75 died when an RJ-100
missed the runway in heavy fog in the southeastern Turkish city of
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 Voss. "It has been involved in a couple of
accidents, but nothing that relates directly back to the