Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

Three dead and 179 injured as Pegasus jet skids off Istanbul runway

The plane - which split into three - was apparently buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul

Three people were killed and 180 injured when a plane skidded off the runway at an Istanbul airport on Wednesday evening, caught fire and split into three after landing in rough weather.

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 Gokcen airport from Izmir, on the Aegean Sea, NTV television reported.

It is the second incident this year of a Pegasus 737 sliding off the runway after a flight from Sharjah skidded on to a grass verge in January.

The plane was apparently buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.

Three Turks were killed and 180 others were injured, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

"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 said, revising the previous total given by Turkish authorities. Turkish media reports said there were 12 children on board. The passengers also included 22 people from 12 countries other than Turkey.

Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya said the plane "slid some 60 metres" after skidding off the runway, and then "fell about 30-40 metres" down a bank.

The accident, which he attributed to bad weather, "could have had more serious consequences", he said.

Rescuers work to extract passengers from the crashed Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737. AFP
Rescuers work to extract passengers from the crashed Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737. AFP

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.

Pegasus Airlines changed its logo on Twitter to a blackened version in a sign of mourning, and said its “priority is to support the relatives and friends who have lost loved ones.”

The company is majority-owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, with 34.5 per cent of shares floating in stock exchange Borsa Istanbul. Its fleet of 83 planes fly to more than 100 destinations.

Shares in the airlines were down more than 4 per cent in early Thursday trading after opening 6.56 per cent down at 71.6 lira.

Boeing, the plane manufacturer, said it is ready to assist.

“We continue to receive reports out of Istanbul, Turkey, regarding the accident involving Pegasus Airlines,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our top concern right now is for the safety and well-being of the passengers and crew on board. We are in contact with our airline customer and have offered them our support. We stand ready to assist in any way possible.”

'Strong landing' at airport

According to NTV, Turhan said the plane broke after a "strong landing" at Sabiha Gokcen, 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.

Sabiha Gokcen, on the Asian side of Turkey's commercial hub, was closed and flights were being redirected to Istanbul's main airport. By mid-day on Thursday, fights resumed from the transport hub.

A digital display shows cancelled flights at Sabiha Gokcen International airport. AFP
A digital display shows cancelled flights at Sabiha Gokcen International airport. AFP

There had been very strong winds and rain in the area before the incident and poor weather conditions in Istanbul, particularly in winter, often lead to the cancellation of flights.

The Istanbul public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.

The plane had landed at the airport at 3.18pm (5.18pm UAE), the private DHA news agency reported.

Previous Pegasus runway incidents

In January 2018, a Pegasus Boeing 737-800 slid down an embankment at Trabzon airport on the Black Sea, and landed just metres 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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to make Istanbul the world's top aviation hub and in 2018 opened a new mega-airport in the city of 15 million people.

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.

Updated: February 6, 2020 01:02 PM

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