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Crumpled plane landed very fast in Istanbul, say passengers

The Pegasus Airline plane broke into three pieces, forcing passengers to squeeze out through the cracks or climb on to its damaged wings.

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Turkish police guard the wreckage of a plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkish police guard the wreckage of a plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkish police guard the wreckage of a plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Passengers who survived a crash landing in Istanbul that killed three people and left a Turkish airliner crumpled into pieces have said the plane’s descent felt unusually fast.

Engin Demir, who was injured in the crash, told NTV television that he really noticed the speed as the Boeing 737 operated by low-cost Pegasus Airline landed at Sabiha Gokcen Airport on Wednesday evening.

Coming in amid strong winds and heavy rain, the plane overshot the runway.

It skidded about 50 to 60 metres (165ft to 200ft) before dropping into a 30-metre (98ft) high ditch, according to the city’s governor Ali Yerlikaya.

The 11-year-old plane broke into three pieces, forcing passengers to squeeze out through the cracks or climb on to its damaged wings.

In addition to the deaths, 180 people were injured, authorities said.

“With the speed, I think it was not able to stop. It all happened in two to three seconds,” Mr Demir said from his hospital bed in Istanbul.

Mr Demir said 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,” he said.

Another survivor, Alper Kulu, told the DHA news agency that the flight was “abnormal from the start to the finish”.

“It was a very turbulent flight. The plane touched down with difficulty. It was very speedy compared to other flights,” he said, noting with irony that “a welcome to Istanbul announcement was made after the wheels touched down”.

I heard announcements that the plane could explodeAlper Kulu, passenger

The plane suddenly swayed left and right, then dipped to the left as it fell into the steep ditch, he added.

He 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.

“There was panic and shouting. Everyone was calling for help. I got out of the plane on my own, with a broken arm, I (climbed) 30-40 metres. I heard announcements that the plane could explode,” he said.

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 dead were Turkish citizens.

The plane’s co-pilot was Dutch.

Foreign affairs spokeswoman Willemien Veldman said the man, whose identity and condition were not released, was injured in the landing and is recovering in hospital.

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.

Soldiers guard the wreckage of a plane operated by Pegasus Airlines after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport
Soldiers guard the wreckage of a plane operated by Pegasus Airlines after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Emrah Gurel/AP)

While crews pumped out the plane’s remaining fuel, a group of insurance officials arrived to inspect the scene.

Flights resumed at the airport early on Thursday with some delays and cancellations.

Pegasus Airlines chief executive Mehmet T Nane told a press conference in Istanbul that the plane’s black boxes had been retrieved and were being deciphered.

“It’s not easy to speak here when there are deaths, damages, injuries,” Mr Nane said, choking up.

He said Pegasus will work to heal the wounds caused by the deadly landing.

“There are tons of questions, how did it happen, why did it happen?” he said, adding that information would be shared by authorities and the company with the public when available.

Mr Nane said the 180 injured were sent to 23 hospitals and 56 of them had already been treated and released.

Mr Yerlikaya said four of them had significant injuries.

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”.

Rescue members and firefighters after a plane skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport
Rescue members and firefighters after the plane skidded off the runway (DHA via AP)

Mr Nane said the company’s pilots were “encouraged” and trained to avoid risks, do stable approaches, bypass landings if necessary and divert to alternative airports.

He said the airline’s safety scores were above European Union standards.

The company is majority-owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, with 34.5% of shares floating on stock exchange Borsa Istanbul.

Its fleet of 83 planes flies to more than 100 destinations.

Despite Mr Nane’s reassurances, Pegasus has had several recent instances of overshooting runways.

Another Pegasus Airlines plane skidded off the runway at the same Istanbul airport on January 7, causing the temporary closure of the airport. There were no injuries.

In January 2018, another Boeing 737 in the Pegasus fleet slid off a runway at Trabzon Airport in north-eastern Turkey.

The plane came to rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed towards the water. No-one was injured.

PA