Nine killed in plane crash close to airport runway; Six more are seriously injured in unexplained incident at Schiphol

NINE people died yesterday when a plane dropped from the sky moments before its scheduled landing at Amsterdam airport.

Last night a further six people were fighting for their lives as investigators probe why the jet crashed.

The Turkish Airlines plane - carrying 135 passengers and crew - dropped into a field 200 metres short of the runway at Schiphol Airport.

Fifty more were injured, but others walked away even though the six-year-old Boeing 737 broke into three sections on impact.

The bodies of the pilot, co-pilot and a third crew member remained in the cockpit pending completion today of checks on equipment and instrument readings to assess the cause of the accident.

Schiphol Airport spokesman Rudd Wescer said it was unclear last night what caused the plane to lose height dramatically and vertically just before the landing.

"The plane landed about 200 metres from the runway and we will need to find out what communications there were with the ground in the moments before the crash."

The relatively few fatalities was explained by experts by the fact that the plane was already prepared for landing and that it was travelling slowly when something caused its sudden descent at the end of a routine flight from Istanbul.

The impact was relatively soft too - into a newly-ploughed field.

The tail hit the ground first, breaking off, and the fuselage then split in two parts.

Relatives and friends of the passengers who had been waiting for the plane's arrival were taken to a crisis centre to be reunited with those who survived and, in some cases, told of the fatalities and serious injuries.

The aircraft was relatively new, with servicing records and safety checks up to date.

The European Commission, which has a "blacklist" of European airlines which are deemed not to meet minimum standards, issued a statement declaring: "In 2008 Turkish Airlines underwent over 100 ramp inspections.

The results for safety and security have always been good."

Survivor Huseyin Sumer said the entire incident seemed to be over in a matter of seconds.

"We were about to land, we could not understand what was happening."

"Some passengers screamed in panic but it happened so fast," he told Turkey's NTV television network.

He made his way to safety, like many others, through the cracks in the fuselage, by which time teams of ambulances and fire engines were on the scene from the airport's own emergency fleet.

Last night Dutch investigators were checking the "black box" light recorders, while the aircraft, complete with the bodies of three crew in the cockpit, was due to be left overnight.

Normal airport services were resumed within hours of the crash, which happened in normal weather conditions.

The flight contained mainly Dutch and Turkish nationals Turkish Airlines laid on a special flight to Schiphol yesterday afternoon for family members of those who were travelling on the ill-fated Flight 1951.

Meanwhile Dutch officials refused to speculate about the possible causes of the crash, warning journalists to wait until the inquiry now under way completes its work.

Turkish government and airline officials are involved in the investigation, with mandatory investigators from the plane's makers flying to Amsterdam from Washington.