17 Jan 2017

Dozens dead after plane hits Kyrgyz homes

6:58 am on 17 January 2017

A Turkish cargo jet was trying to land in dense fog when it smashed into a Kyrgyzstan village, killing all four crew and at least 33 people on the ground.

The Boeing 747, operated by ACT Airlines and flying from Hong Kong, crashed as it was about to land in fog at Manas airport, 25km (15 miles) north of the capital, Bishkek, on Monday local time.

The plane ploughed on for several hundred metres through the Dachi Suu village, home to hundreds of families, breaking into mangled pieces and damaging at least 15 buildings.

Kyrgyzstan's Emergencies Ministry put the initial toll at 37. The Healthcare Ministry said 13 children and teenagers were among the dead.

"I am alone now, all of my neighbours are dead," pensioner Anarkan Kozhoyeva, 65, said. "Our house was just 20 metres away (from the destroyed area)."

"Everyone got frightened and started to run out of the houses to the street. Nobody understood what was going on because there was a fog, the weather was not good," resident Andrei Andreyev said.

An area the size of a football field was levelled and covered with wreckage.

Flight TK6491 was to have stopped at Manas en route to Istanbul in Turkey.

The plane's tail section was left upside down on top of a shed, next to the empty space where a house was obliterated.

Plumes of smoke rose above the crash site, with some mudbrick buildings razed.

Kyrgyz authorities have declared a day of mourning for Tuesday.

ACT is an Istanbul-based airline operating under the name MyCargo. The plane is believed to have been about 14 years old.

Deputy PM Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev said on state TV: "According to preliminary information, the plane crashed due to a pilot error."

'Like an earthquake'

Locals said they initially thought the area was struck by an earthquake.

One witness, Baktygul Kurbatova, told local media: "I woke up because of a bright red light outside. I couldn't understand what was happening.

"It turns out the ceiling and the walls were crashing in on us. I was so scared but I managed to cover my son's face with my hands so that debris would not fall on him."

Another resident, named only as Tajikan, said she heard "a roar and (what felt) like an earthquake".

"Many people were sleeping, everything around was burning. One of the parts of the aircraft fell on our neighbour's house. She and her whole family died."

ACT said the plane had no record of technical faults and had not encountered problems during its flight.

One of its two flight recorders has been recovered, the Kyrgyz prime minister's office said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his Kyrgyz counterpart, Almazbek Atambayev, on Monday to express his sadness at the loss of life.