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Turkey probes pilots after plane crash kills three, injures hundreds

The Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 split into 3 pieces on landing, killing three people [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 February, 2020

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Two Turkish pilots are under investigation for possible negligence after their plane crashed on the runway in Istanbul, killing three passengers and injuring 180.
Turkey will investigate two pilots for possible negligence after their plane skidded off an Istanbul runway killing three passengers, state media reported Thursday.

A total of 174 passengers and six crew were injured after the Boeing 737, operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines, flew into Sabiha Gokcen airport from the western city of Izmir late on Wednesday.

Firefighters attending to the crash had initially reported no deaths.

Istanbul's prosecutor will probe the pilots on suspicion of causing death and injury through negligence, the TRT broadcaster reported.

The pilots are among those in hospital and will give statements to police after their treatment is complete, the channel added.

The plane landed in heavy wind and rain, and slid 60 metres (200 feet) off the end of the runway before falling 30-40 metres down a bank, Istanbul's governor said.

Sabiha Gokcen airport was briefly closed after the incident, Pegasus CEO Mehmet Tevfik Nane told reporters.

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.

Nane said 56 people had been discharged from hospitals and the aircraft's black box was being examined for clues to the cause of the crash.

"Such accidents occur not because of one factor but many factors," he said.

The airline's planes were relatively new, with an average age of 5.3 years, and that "their technical reliability is very high", Nane added.

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.

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.

'Strong landing'

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, which lies on the Asian side of Turkey's commercial hub, was closed and flights were being redirected to Istanbul's main airport.

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 plane had landed at the airport at 15:18 GMT, the private DHA news agency reported.

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.

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.

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