Turkish plane crash kills all 57 on board
By Mert Ozkan and Umit Bektas
ISPARTA, Turkey (Reuters) - A Turkish domestic airliner crashed in the mountains in southwest Turkey on Friday, killing all 57 people on board, officials said.
Private AtlasJet Airlines Chief Executive Tuncay Doganer said the cause of the crash was not clear as weather conditions were normal and the aircraft had no known technical problems.
Officials said all on board were Turkish.
The 165-seat MD 83 plane, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, crashed in the early hours of Friday before it was due to land in the city of Isparta. It had been flying from Istanbul with 49 passengers and seven crew.
The plane crashed outside Keciborlu, a town some 12 km (7.5 miles) from Isparta's Suleyman Demirel airport.
The death toll, previously reported as 56, rose to 57 as a baby on the plane had not been counted, Turkish Pilots Association Chairman Tuna Gurel told a news conference, adding it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash.
Fifty-three of the bodies have been recovered.
Media reports said emergency workers had retrieved the plane's "black boxes," or data recorders, which were expected to shed light on the cause of the crash.
Turkey is in the grip of winter with snow and fog common on higher ground in much of the country.
"No matter what measures you take, plane accidents happen and we see that 80 to 85 percent are due to human error," said Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, adding regular inspections had been carried out on the leased plane.
Rescue workers reached the mountainous crash site after military helicopters spotted the wreckage of the airliner.
Sahin Kartal, who lost his nephew and sister-in-law, later reached the cordoned-off site in the forested mountain.
"The authorities made us wait for news until this hour. They told us that the plane took off and then landed, but we didn't know it landed like this," Kartal told Reuters.
A reporter from state-run Anatolian news agency who arrived aboard a military helicopter said she saw bodies strewn around the crash area, with personal belongings and luggage scattered on the hillside along with aircraft debris.
Some dead passengers were still strapped to their seats.
Some 300 soldiers later sealed off the crash site to keep people away as a forensic team collected blood samples from the victims for DNA identification. Authorities used heavy machinery to clear trees from the hilly area.
Ambulances arrived and rescue workers began removing the bodies, which were to be taken to local hospitals.
Turkish television showed a large section of the plane, with emergency exits open, intact on the side of a forested mountain. It appeared the front and back of the aircraft were smashed.
Anxious relatives arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk airport seeking news of the passengers.
"They have great pain. This is a terrible thing, we should all support them," Istanbul deputy governor Cafer Yildiz told reporters. A plane carrying the relatives flew to Isparta.
The aircraft disappeared from radar screens shortly before it was due to land at Isparta, about 150 km (90 miles) north of the Mediterranean resort of Antalya.
"As the plane was approaching its descent, it sought permission to land and after receiving a positive reply from the tower, contact was lost," Anatolian news agency quoted local deputy governor Tayyar Sasmaz as saying.
The aircraft was leased by Turkish-based World Focus Airlines to AtlasJet, which operates 15 planes.
(Reporting by Gareth Jones, Selcuk Gokoluk, Omer Berberoglu and Daren Butler, writing by Paul de Bendern, editing by Tim Pearce)