9 dead, 50 hurt when airliner crashes

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">An image from Danish television showing the crash of a Turkish airliner near Amsterdam on Wednesday, February 25, 2009.</span></div>
February 25, 2009 9:45:05 AM PST
A Turkish Airlines plane carrying 135 people slammed into a muddy field while attempting to land at Amsterdam's main airport in misty weather Wednesday. Nine people were killed and more than 50 were injured, many seriously, officials said. The Boeing 737-800, en route from Istanbul to Amsterdam, broke into three pieces when it hit the ground short of a runway at Schiphol Airport at 1031 a.m. (0931 GMT, 0431 EST). The fuselage split in two, close to the cockpit, and the tail broke off. The crash site is about two miles (three kilometers) from the runway.

A spokesman for investigators said two pilots and an apprentice pilot were among the dead and confirmed that the stricken plane's flight data recorders had been found and were to be analyzed by experts.

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.

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

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.

Experts said that might 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.

Having reached its destination, the plane would have used up a major portion of its fuel.

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.

A spokeswoman for local health authorities, Mieke Van der Zande, said six of the injured were in critical condition, 25 were seriously wounded and 24 had slight injuries. Survivors were taken to 11 hospitals including an emergency field hospital set up by the military in the central city of Utrecht.

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.

Weather at the airport near the time of the crash was cloudy with slight drizzle.

But 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.

Turkish Airlines has had several serious crashes since 1974, when 360 people died when a DC-10 crashed near Paris when 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 Diyarbakir.

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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Associated Press Writers Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Mike Corder in The Hague, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

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