An Atlasjet plane crashed shortly before it was due to land in southwest Turkey early Friday, killing all 56 people on board, the airline’s chief executive said. The cause was not immediately known.
A rescue helicopter reached the plane’s wreckage in a mountainous region near the town of Keciborlu, in Isparta province, and reported that no one had survived the crash, airline CEO Tuncay Doganer said.
Pieces of wreckage and personal belongings were strewn across a vast area and rescue crews were seen placing the dead into body bags. Television news channels showed footage of rescue workers in bright yellow jackets walking around the plane’s fuselage, which lay amid rocks and trees on a slope slightly shrouded in fog.
Workers brought in heavy machinery to clear trees and make access to the site easier, state-run news agency Anatolia reported.
‘The plane ... disappeared’
The MD-83, carrying 49 passengers and seven crew members, took off from Istanbul around 1 a.m. headed to Isparta on a flight of about one hour, but went off the radar just before landing at the airport.
“The pilot saw the airport and informed the tower that it was inbound. The plane then disappeared,” Doganer said.
He said the cause of the crash was unknown, but that the weather and visibility were good.
“The weather could not have been better,” he said. Doganer also said the crash “had nothing to do with a technical fault,” though he acknowledged an investigation was required to determine the cause.
Helicopters took off from Ankara, the capital, to search for the plane. It was spotted five hours after it went missing. Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said the plane crashed 7 miles from the Isparta airport.
Families of those onboard first rushed to the airports of Istanbul and Isparta for news of their loved ones and later headed toward the crash scene. Families that had reached the area tried to pass through the security cordon to search for their loved ones, Anatolia reported.
Soldiers struggled to keep them out and were assisting distraught relatives.
Sky Turk television showed a woman in tears near the crash site. She said her son was on the plane. “He was due to come home last night,” she sobbed.
Turkish media released a list of passengers. All names were Turkish. The Anatolia agency said passengers included a group of academics planning to take part in a conference on physics at an Isparta university.
Semsettin Uzun, the governor of Isparta, said the crash site was not on the plane’s regular flight route. “It is impossible to understand how the plane” ended up there, said Uzun, who viewed the site from a helicopter.
Local officials said the plane had broken into two pieces, with its fuselage and rear landing in different locations. Anatolia said the plane’s wings and engine were at the top of a hill while the fuselage was 500 feet lower.
Dogan news agency released a transcript of the conversation between the Atlasjet pilot and the Isparta control tower, but the exchange did not indicate the plane was in trouble.
At 1:36 a.m., the pilot was quoted as saying, “Isparta tower, we are inbound.” The tower responded, “Understood, Atlasjet. Continue to approach.”
The civil aviation authority said in a statement that communication with the plane was interrupted on its final approach to Suleyman Demirel airport in Isparta at 1:45 a.m.
Atlasjet, a private airline established in 2001, operates regular flights inside Turkey and chartered flights to Europe and other foreign destinations.
In 2005, one of its planes ran off the runway in winter conditions, but the company had not been involved in any fatal accidents. In August, one of its planes was hijacked by two men who held several passengers hostage for four hours before surrendering.
Previous accidents in Turkey include a Turkish Airlines plane that crashed in January 2003 while attempting to land on a fog-covered runway in the city of Diyarbakir, killing 75 people. Five people survived with injuries.
In May 2003, 62 Spanish soldiers returning from peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan and 13 crew members were killed aboard a Ukrainian charter flight that crashed on a fog-shrouded mountain slope near the Turkish Black Sea port city of Trabzon.
In 1994, a Turkish Airlines jet crashed in the eastern province of Van as the pilot tried to land in a snowstorm despite repeated warnings from the control tower to turn back. Fifty-four people were killed.