ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A plane skidded off the runway Wednesday as it tried to land in Istanbul, crashing into a field and breaking into pieces. Authorities said at least 120 people were injured, and passengers were seen evacuating through the cracks in the plane.
Television footage showed serious damage to the plane, with the fuselage appearing to be broken into three pieces at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport. NTV television reported the plane, which belonged to the low-cost airline Pegasus, arrived from the city of Izmir. NTV said it caught fire after skidding but said the blaze had been extinguished.
The airport was shut down and flights were being diverted to Istanbul’s main airport.
Istanbul Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said the plane landed in bad weather, failed to “hold onto the runway” and skidded some 50-60 meters (yards) before crashing into a ditch from a height of some 30 meters. He said 120 people were injured and had been hospitalized.
“We are deeply saddened … (But) we are very happy that we escaped a greater accident,” he said, adding that the plane could have burst into flames.
The airport was shut down after the accident, which occurred at around 6:30 p.m. local time (1530 GMT) and flights were being diverted to Istanbul’s main airport.
Live television footage showed dozens of rescue crew members working around the flood-lit fuselage, including around the cockpit, which had flipped over.
The Transportation Ministry said there had been no deaths in what it called a “rough landing.”
“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.
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.
Eyewitness Hasan Eraydin, who shot the video, said he had been driving home from work when he heard a rumble.
“We were about 30 meters away … we tried to get to the scene to help, but there was some sort of a canal in between and it was impossible. We thought ‘God willing, no one has died.’”
He added that authorities have had “no contact” yet with the pilots.
According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, the plane is a Boeing 737.
The accident comes a month after another Pegasus plane skidded off the runway in Istanbul at the same airport. There were no deaths or injuries in that incident on January 7.
It is rare for a fuselage to split open while pieces remain largely intact. Planes are designed to absorb impact forces in the bottom of the fuselage to improve the chances that passengers in the cabin above will survive.
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.