- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

PHUKET, Thailand (AP) — A plane carrying foreign tourists crashed yesterday as it tried to land in stormy weather on the resort island of Phuket, engulfing some passengers in flames while others kicked out windows to escape the smoke-filled cabin. At least 91 persons were killed, 55 of whom were foreigners.

The budget One-Two-Go Airlines flight was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew members from the capital, Bangkok, to Phuket when it skidded off the runway in driving wind and rain, officials said. It then ran through a low retaining wall and split in two.

Searchers found the plane’s two flight-data recorders, or black boxes, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused yesterday’s crash. Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen said the black boxes would be sent to the U.S. for analysis.

“Hopefully, we will learn in a few weeks the cause of accident,” he said.

Officials have said weather was likely a factor.

Survivors described their escape amid chaos, smoke and fire.

“As soon as we hit, everything went dark, and everything fell,” said Mildred Furlong, 23, a waitress from British Columbia, Canada. The plane started filling with smoke and fires broke out, she said. A passenger in front of her caught fire, while one in the back kicked out a plane window.

There were 78 foreigners onboard the plane. They included tourists from France, Germany, Israel, Australia and Britain, said the deputy governor of Phuket province, Worapot Ratthaseema.

Israel’s Ha”aretz daily reported that 11 Israelis had been onboard the plane. Two were hospitalized, and the other nine were feared dead, the newspaper said, citing a hospital worker.

About 60 bodies were retrieved quickly, but it took hours to get the other bodies out. Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runway, while officials wearing masks carried bodies wrapped in white sheets to an airport storage building.

Survivors said the plane landed hard and was out of control.

“Our plane was landing — you can tell it was in trouble because it kind of landed, then came up again the second time,” said John Gerard O’Donnell of Ireland, speaking from his hospital bed.

“I came out on the wing of the plane … the exit door, it was kind of crushed and I had to squeeze through. And I saw my friend, he was outside. He just got out before me. And next thing, it really caught fire, then I just got badly burned, my face, my legs, my arms,” he said.

Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said some passengers were engulfed in flames.

“I stepped over them on the way out of the plane,” Mr. Parinwit told the Nation TV channel. “I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away.”

Piyanooch Ananpakdee, a coordinator at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, said some survivors told her that passengers stepped on each other as they fled the smoke-filled plane.

She said there were five persons in critical condition at her hospital, including a British woman with burns over 60 percent of her body and another person with broken ribs. Many of the injured also had broken legs and similar injuries from jumping from the aircraft, she said.

Dr. Charnsilp Wacharajira said some of the victims were killed by traumatic injuries to the head, not burns from the fire, indicating they died from the impact of the crash.

Many of the passengers had been planning to vacation at Phuket, an island popular with Thai and foreign tourists for its pristine beaches. It was among the areas hit hardest by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 8,000 people on the island.

Yesterday’s plane crash was Thailand’s deadliest since December 1998, when 101 persons were killed in a Thai Airways crash at Surat Thani, 330 miles south of Bangkok. Forty-five persons survived.

The accident was likely to raise new questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have experienced rapid growth in recent years. None of Thailand’s budget airlines has previously suffered a major accident, but there have been several deadly crashes in Indonesia.

Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines. According to Thai and U.S. aviation-registration data, the plane that crashed in Phuket was manufactured and put into use in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March of this year.

AP writer Sutin Wannabovorn contributed to this report.

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