Three people killed and 180 injured after Turkish airliner skids off the runway in Istanbul
Three people were killed and 180 injured after the Turkish airliner skidded off the runway in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport on Wednesday evening, 5 February 2020. The Pegasus Airline plane, a Boeing 737, overshot the runway after coming in to land during strong winds and heavy rain. The aircraft skidded around 50 to 60 metres before dropping into a 30-metre high ditch. The 11-year-old plane broke into three pieces, forcing passengers to squeeze out through the cracks or climb on to its damaged wings. The plane, which carried 177 passengers and six crew members from the western Turkish city of Izmir, included people from 12 countries. Officials said the three people who died were from Turkey. Work continued at the crash site on Thursday as investigators examined the wreckage, crews took apart the plane's interior and police and the Turkish military guarded the site. While crews pumped out the plane's remaining fuel, a group of insurance officials arrived to inspect the scene. Pegasus Airlines chief executive Mehmet T Nane said that the plane's black boxes had been retrieved and were being deciphered.
“Many more people could have died, this was a very close call,” said Haluk Kul, an aircraft engineer and faculty member at Istanbul’s Gelsim University. “We are very lucky there wasn’t a massive fire because there was such a high amount of force coming in. Everyone on board could have died.” He added, “The fuel tank could have exploded. It was a horrible accident but it was a very close call.”
Initial reports focused on high winds and heavy rain as the 11-year-old plane landed at around 18h20 local time following a one-hour flight from Izmir in western Turkey. According to Turkish media, two earlier Turkish Airlines flights made a pass around during their landing approach because of tail winds gusting at more than 60 kilometres per hour.
Surface water on the runway could also have been a factor, Kul said. “When a plane lands you need friction for the plane to stop. When you’re going 250 to 270kmh and there’s a lot of rain that can reduce friction significantly and prevent the plane from slowing. If there’s a lot of rain you need to land harder to create friction and stop.”
David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor at FlightGlobal, highlighted that strong west winds were coming from behind the flight as it landed. “Normally aircraft would land into a strong wind to reduce the risk of landing too fast and too long, that is, further down the runway and at a higher speed than intended, both of which can increase the risk of an overrun,” he said. However, he pointed out that there are usually several contributing factors in air accidents.
The disaster is the third landing accident involved Pegasus planes in Turkey in the past two years.
Pegasus chief executive Mehmet Nane said the company’s pilots were warned to pass by if there was a risk during landing. Close to tears, he added, “Such events occur not just for one reason but by many factors coming together. Therefore, no one should doubt that we will deliver any developments and improvements that come out of the accident investigation process.” Nane said 56 of the injured had been released from hospital. The Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya said four people had serious injuries.
Passengers described the panic as the aircraft slid off the runway and down a 30-metre ditch, breaking up in the process and leaving the front section, including the cockpit, upside down.
Engin Demir, who was injured in the crash, said that the increased speed was noticeable as the plane landed at on Wednesday evening. Demir said from his hospital bed in Istanbul, "With the speed, I think it was not able to stop. It all happened in two to three seconds." Demir added that he was temporarily trapped by plane debris falling from the luggage compartment. "There were screams and shouts. I tried to calm people around me. Help soon arrived."
Alper Kulu, another survivor, said that the flight was "abnormal from the start to the finish". He added that the plane suddenly swayed left and right, then dipped to the left as it fell into the steep ditch. Kulu said the impact of the landing flipped the seats in front of him completely around and he pressed to get out, fearing the plane could explode.
Anadolu chief prosecutors have launched an investigation into the accident, looking into whether the pilots may have caused "death of more than one person and injuring many by negligence," state broadcaster TRT reported. The pilots will be taken to a police station for testimony after receiving treatment in the hospital.
Source: Sky News, The National