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Monday, September 17, 2007

89 Killed - updated September 19, 2007

88 killed in Thai plane crash

A passenger jet crashed Sunday at Phuket International Airport in southern Thailand shortly after landing, killing 88 of the 130 people on board, according to Health Ministry officials.

Passengers and crew -- including dozens of European tourists --scrambled for the One-Two-GO plane's emergency exits, trying to escape as flames spread through the aircraft, witnesses said.

The Thai News Agency reported the aircraft that crashed was a U.S.-made McDonnell-Douglas 82.

The National Transportation Safety Board will assist the Thai government in the investigation, according to a statement on the NTSB's Web site.

Both the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration usually deploy investigators to crash sites involving U.S.-made aircraft.

Erik Nihlen, a Swedish tourist who helped open an emergency exit door, told his mother that he and other passengers had feared the aircraft might crash as strong winds buffeted the plane during its second landing attempt.

"When they were up in the air, they thought something was not right," Maria Nihlen said. "Before the second [landing attempt], they knew that they were going to crash and they formed into position for an emergency landing and, well, then it happened."

She said her son -- who suffered only bruises -- was stuck in his seat belt as passengers climbed over him to get to the exit door, which was still closed.

"People were falling over him ... and then the shelf fell over him from above," she said. "But he and his friend managed to actually push hard away the people to be able to open the emergency exit door."

Many of the 43 survivors climbed out of an exit door onto the wing. John Gerard O'Donnell, an Irishman who spoke to the news media from his hospital bed, said that's how he escaped.

"I just can't get my head around what happened," said O'Donnell, whose face and arms were bandaged. "As the plane was landing, you could tell it was in trouble 'cause it kind of landed and came up again. Then the second time, it just smashed."

He said the exit door was "kind of crushed, but we got to squeeze through and onto the wing."

"My friend was outside, I seen him, he got out before me, and next thing it really caught fire then," O'Donnell said. "I just got badly burnt -- my face, my legs, my arms."

He said he had arrived Saturday in Bangkok and intended to spend the week in Phuket with his friend, who underwent surgery for his injuries.

William Harding, who witnessed the crash from another One-Two-GO aircraft that had landed just five minutes before, said he saw flames engulf the plane.

"After about five minutes of burning, there was a small explosion that blew off the top of the plane," he said. "My friend [who also witnessed the crash] ... was saying that in that flight, some of the crew jumped at the last minute and the plane kind of burst into flames."

The aircraft, operated by Thai low-cost carrier One-Two-GO, crashed shortly after landing. The passenger jet skidded off the runway during a landing attempt amid heavy rain and strong crosswinds, according to Thai News Agency, Thailand's national news agency. The aircraft burst into flames shortly after impact, an eyewitness said.

A spokesman for the airline said Flight OG269 left Bangkok at approximately 2:30 p.m. local time and was scheduled to land in Phuket at approximately 3:50 p.m.

He said the plane was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew members.

The island of Phuket is a popular resort destination for international and local tourists.

Video showed dozens of ambulances and fire trucks on the scene, which was enveloped in black smoke.

Two hospitals treating survivors detailed their nationalities as: Australian: 1, Austrian: 1, British: 8, Dutch:1, German: 4, Iranian: 3, Irish: 3, Italian: 1, Swedish: 2, Thai: 14.

Flights from Phuket International Airport were canceled after the crash, affecting four flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong and about 1,000 passengers, according to TNA (Thai News Agency).

The airport is the second-busiest in Thailand, according to the airport's Web site. It's about 32 kilometers from downtown Phuket.

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