Three people have died and 179 were injured when a plane skidded off the runway at an Istanbul airport, caught fire and split into three after landing in rough weather, with both the state and the airline company launching probes into the incident.
Live images broadcast on Turkish television showed several people climbing through a large crack in the severed aircraft and escaping onto one of the wings at the rear.
The Boeing 737 operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines had flown into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen airport from the Aegean port city of İzmir on Feb. 5, NTV television reported.
The plane was apparently buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.
Three Turks were killed and 179 injured, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters.
“Some passengers evacuated the plane by themselves, but others are stuck inside and our rescuers are working to free them,” Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan said on CNN Turk television.
The plane was carrying 177 passengers and six crew members, state news agency Anadolu Agency said, revising the previous total given by Turkish authorities. Turkish media reports said there were 12 children on board.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said the plane “slid some 60 meters “after skidding off the runway, and then “fell about 30-40 meters” down a bank.
The accident, which he attributed to bad weather, “could have had more serious consequences,” he said.
NTV showed images of the badly damaged plane and flames inside, which were later put out by firefighters.
After darkness fell, television footage showed dozens of rescue workers in high-visibility jackets surrounding the plane with flashlights.
Some sprayed water jets onto the severed body of the aircraft, while others could be seen climbing up onto the plane to comb through the cabin.
According to NTV, Turhan said the plane broke after a “strong landing” at Sabiha Gökçen, one of two main international airports in Istanbul.
The front of the plane including the cockpit was sliced off from the bulk of the fuselage, and another huge fissure separated the rear of the aircraft including the tail.
The black boxes of the crashed plane were taken and their decoding process was initiated, Mehmet Tevfik Nane, general manager of Pegasus Airlines, said in a press conference regarding the crash.
Stating that plane accidents could be caused many factors, Nane underlined that the cause of the accident can be learned after the technical examinations.
“All our pilots are encouraged not to take risks, to take a stable approach, to abort landing on the runway if there is a risk and to continue to another airport when necessary. These practices are audited annually by the General Directorate of Civil Aviation,” Nane said.
“Our planes are young aircrafts with high technical average, with an average age of 5.3 and the maintenance of these aircrafts are followed in compliance with the regulations” he added.
Stating that Pegasus officials are constantly checking on the families of the deceased and the wounded in the hospital, Nane said that as the process progresses, the company will share the information received with the public.
Sabiha Gökçen, which lies on the Asian side of Turkey’s commercial hub, was closed and flights were being redirected to Istanbul’s main airport. The airport was later reopened for flights.
The Istanbul public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.
The plane had landed at the airport at 18:18 local time, Demirören News Agency reported.
In January 2018, a Pegasus Boeing 737-800 slid down an embankment at the airport in Trabzon province on the Black Sea and landed just meters from the water with its wheels stuck in thick mud.
After four days, the plane was eventually lifted back onto the runway, with engineers using cranes. All 162 passengers and six crew were safely evacuated.
Pegasus, which has been flying for 20 years, has a fleet of 83 aircraft, including 47 Boeings and 36 Airbus planes, according to its website.
Hurriyet Daily News