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Plane skids off Istanbul runway, breaks into pieces

A Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport Feb. 5, 2020.
A Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport Feb. 5, 2020. © Muhammed DEMIR / AFP

A plane skidded off the runway Wednesday as it tried to land in Istanbul, crashing into a field and breaking into pieces, killing one person and injuring 157 others, according to Turkish authorities.  

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The low-cost Pegasus Airlines plane was arriving at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport from the western Turkish city of Izmir when it had what the Transportation Ministry described as a “rough landing”.

Video obtained by The Associated Press showed the wreckage of the plane in a field adjacent to the end of the runway. The video shows heavy rain and strong winds at the time, with smoke coming from one of the engines as passengers climb out of the fuselage onto the wings of the plane and away from the crash site.

Dozens of rescue crew members swarmed around the flood-lit fuselage, including around the cockpit, which had flipped over. The plane was a Boeing 737 that was 11 years old, according to the flight tracking website Flightradar24.

Speaking to reporters in the eastern province of Van, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said one person had died in hospital after the accident but that none of the other wounded were in critical condition. 

NTV television said the injured included the plane’s two pilots. The TV station also broadcast a recording of the communications between the pilots and air traffic control in which the pilots are told that previous flights had reported strong tail winds.

The airport was shut down after the crash landing and flights were being diverted to Istanbul's main airport.

"According to the information we have, there was a rough landing. The accident occurred after (the plane) could not decelerate and rammed into a field from the end of the runway," state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Mehmet Cahit Turan as saying. 

Previous incidents of planes skidding off runway

Pegasus is a privately-owned, low-cost carrier based in Istanbul that flies 97 routes, mostly within Turkey and to destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is majority owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, who have big investments in the country in areas as varied as real estate, clothing, health clubs and packaging materials.

The accident comes a month after a Pegasus plane with 164 people on board skidded off the runway in Istanbul at the same airport. There were no deaths or injuries in that incident on January 7. 

In January 2018, another Boeing 737-800 in the Pegasus’ fleet slid off a runway at northeastern Turkey’s Trabzon Airport and down a dirt embankment. The plane came to rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed toward the water. None of the 168 passengers and crew members were injured.

In 2013, the tail of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 broke off after the jet hit a seawall during approach to San Francisco International Airport. Three people died, 49 were seriously injured and scores more suffered minor injuries, according to the US accident report.

That same year, a Lion Air Boeing 737 split in two after landing in shallow water short of the runway in Bali, Indonesia. All 101 passengers and seven crew members survived.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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