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Peter DeJong and Toby Sterling, Published February 25 2009

9 dead in Turkish plane crash in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM (AP) – 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 3:31 a.m. CST. The fuselage split in two, close to the cockpit, and the tail broke off. The crash site is about two miles 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, Ineke 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. Some 550 yards 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, Hasan 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 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 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.

Investigators will explore a wide range of possible causes of the crash, ranging from weather-related factors such as wind shear or icing, to fuel starvation, 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 boxes, although the full report will likely not be ready before the end of the year.

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 both cockpit and cabin crews.

The most dramatic example of passenger survival was in 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 people on board lived.

In 2005, an Air France Airbus 340 crash-landed at Toronto airport and burned; all passengers and crew escaped unharmed. A British Airways Boeing 777 landed just short of the runway at London’s Heathrow in 2008 and the airframe was destroyed; no one on board died. And a Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway on Dec. 20 and slid into a snowy field in Denver; no one was killed.

The Dutch government pledged a swift investigation of Wednesday’s crash.

“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.

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

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.