Amsterdam Jet Crash Offers Up Mini Miracle

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

AMSTERDAM, Holland - A Turkish Airlines jetliner plummeted out of the mist and plowed into a muddy field Wednesday near Amsterdam's main airport, but nearly everyone on board - 125 people - survived. The nine dead included both pilots.

The Boeing 737-800 was en route from Istanbul to Amsterdam carrying 134 people when it suddenly lost speed and fell out of the sky about two miles short of the runway at Schiphol Airport, investigators said.

The jetliner broke into three pieces upon impact: the fuselage tore in two near the cockpit and the tail was ripped off. Despite the catastrophic impact, the wreckage did not burn and scores of people walked away.

Survivors say the flight seemed to be on a normal approach, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. An announcement from the flight deck said the plane was at two-thousand feet, moments from landing.

Survivor Huseyin Sumer said he crawled to safety out of a crack in the fuselage.

"We were about to land, we could not understand what was happening, some passengers screamed in panic, but it happened so fast," Sumer said on Turkish NTV, adding that the crash was over in 5 to 10 seconds.

Another survivor, Jihad Alariachi, said there was no warning from the cockpit to brace for landing before the ground loomed up through the mist and drizzle.

"We braked really hard, but that's normal in a landing. And then the nose went up. And then we bounced ... with the nose aloft," she said, adding that she and her sister scrambled out an emergency exit.

More than 50 people were injured, about half of them seriously.

That so many survived seemed due to the relatively low impact speed, to the water-logged field on which the plane landed and to the fact there was no fire, leading to speculation the plane may have had some sort of fuel problem, reports Phillips.

"We can't decide that because there was no fire, that there was no fuel. It's just one more ingredient that would lead you to believe that perhaps there wasn't enough fuel in the airplane - nothing left to burn," said CBS News aviation expert Harley Carnes.

The fact that the plane, having reached its destination, would have used up most of its fuel, also lessened the chances of a fuel-driven fire. Authorities would not say whether the plane sent out a distress call before the crash.

"The fact that the plane landed on a soft surface and that there was no fire helped keep the number of fatalities low," Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said, adding that it was "a miracle" there were not more casualties.

The head of the Dutch Safety Authority, Pieter van Vollenhoven, said the plane appeared to have lost speed before crashing.

"You see that because of a lack of speed it literally fell out of the sky," he told NOS radio after visiting the crash site.

Investigators said two pilots and an apprentice pilot were among the dead. Hours after the crash, emergency crews still swarmed around the cockpit, where the pilots' bodies were later removed.

The plane's flight data recorders were recovered and were to be analyzed by experts.

Experts say crashes involving modern airliners are more survivable due to engineering advances that have resulted in strengthened structures and fire retardant technologies used for cabin seats and furnishings, as well as better emergency training of cockpit and cabin crews.

The most dramatic example of passenger survival was the Hudson River landing last month of a US Airways Airbus A320 that lost engine power when it struck a flock of birds. All 155 passengers and crew lived despite the watery landing.

As with Wednesday's crash, most of the survivable accidents have occurred at or near airports, and in most cases, the pilots maintained control, maneuvering to soften the final impact.

"What's notable about all those is that we've seen a number of recent-model aircraft involved in accidents that have been survivable," said William Voss, a former Federal Aviation Administration official and president of the independent Flight Safety Foundation based in Alexandria, Virginia.


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