Three people have died and 179 were injured when a plane skidded off the runway at an Istanbul airport, caught fire and split into three after landing in rough weather.
Live images broadcast on Turkish television showed several people climbing through a large crack in the severed aircraft and escaping onto one of the wings at the rear.
The Boeing 737 operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines had flown into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport from the Aegean port city of Izmir on Wednesday, NTV television reported.
The plane was apparently buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.
Three Turks were killed and 179 injured, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters.
“Some passengers evacuated the plane by themselves but others are stuck inside and our rescuers are working to free them,” Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan said on CNN-Turk television.
The plane was carrying 177 passengers and six crew members, state news agency Anadolu said, revising the previous total given by Turkish authorities. Turkish media reports said there were 12 children on board.
Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya said the plane “slid some 60 metres (200 feet)” after skidding off the runway, and then “fell about 30-40 metres” down a bank.
The accident, which he attributed to bad weather, “could have had more serious consequences”, he said.
NTV showed images of the badly damaged plane and flames inside, which were later put out by firefighters.
After darkness fell, television footage showed dozens of rescue workers in high-visibility jackets surrounding the plane with flashlights.
Some sprayed water jets onto the severed body of the aircraft, while others could be seen climbing up onto the plane to comb through the cabin.
– ‘Strong landing’ –
According to NTV, Turhan said the plane broke after a “strong landing” at Sabiha Gokcen, one of two main international airports in Istanbul.
The front of the plane including the cockpit was sliced off from the bulk of the fuselage, and another huge fissure separated the rear of the aircraft including the tail.
Sabiha Gokcen, which lies on the Asian side of Turkey’s commercial hub, was closed and flights were being redirected to Istanbul’s main airport.
There had been very strong winds and rain in the area before the incident and poor weather conditions in Istanbul, particularly in winter, often lead to the cancellation of flights.
The Istanbul public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.
The plane had landed at the airport at 1518 GMT, the private DHA news agency reported.
In January 2018, a Pegasus Boeing 737-800 slid down an embankment at Trabzon airport on the Black Sea and landed just metres from the water with its wheels stuck in thick mud.
After four days, the plane was eventually lifted back onto the runway with engineers using cranes. All 162 passengers and six crew were safely evacuated.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to make Istanbul the world’s top aviation hub and in 2018 opened a new mega-airport in the city of 15 million people.
Pegasus, which has been flying for 20 years, has a fleet of 83 aircraft, including 47 Boeings and 36 Airbus planes, according to its website.