Turkey Plane Crash Kills All 57 on Board

No indications of sabotage


YESILYURT, Turkey --

An Atlasjet plane crashed on a rocky mountain shortly before it was due to land in southwest Turkey on Friday, killing all 57 people on board, including a 6-week-old baby going to see her grandparents for the first time.

The MD-83, carrying 50 passengers and seven crew members, took off from Istanbul around 1 a.m. for the one-hour flight to Isparta province, but it went off the radar just before landing at the airport.

A rescue helicopter reached the plane's wreckage near the village of Yesilyurt at about 7 a.m., and reported no survivors, said Tuncay Doganer, the airline's chief executive.

The plane crashed on a mountain around 5,000 feet high, and rescuers initially had difficulty reaching the wreckage because of the rugged terrain, Atlasjet said. The crash site was seven miles from the airport.

"The pilot saw the airport and informed the tower that it was inbound. The plane then disappeared," Doganer said.

He said the cause of the crash was unknown, but ruled out technical failure and said the weather and visibility were good.

There were no indications that terrorism or sabotage was the cause, said Ali Ariduru, head of Turkey's civil aviation authority. The area where the plane crashed is not a traditional stronghold of a Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy from Turkey.

Pieces of wreckage and personal belongings, including suitcases, clothing and magazines, were strewn across the hillside. Rescue workers in bright yellow jackets entered the plane's fuselage, which lay amid boulders and pine trees.

"The seats were detached and all over the place. Some of the seat belts were still around the bodies," said medic Mustafa Dagci, one of the first people to reach the site. "Some bodies were intact, others were in pieces."

Investigators found the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, the civil aviation authority said.

Weeping relatives approached the crash site, but were turned away by soldiers and other officials who sought to comfort them. Many bodies were not identifiable, firefighter Osman Emir said.

Ali Ceylan said he lost his 6-week-old granddaughter, who was born in Istanbul and returning home to Isparta. His 22-year-old daughter-in-law and her mother also died. His son, a police officer, was in shock and being treated with tranquilizers

"We were going to see our grandchild for the first time," Ceylan said. "It's very hard for us. It's enough to make us go mad."

Cengiz Dincer said two friends were on the plane after a day trip to Istanbul.

"I keep thinking they'll appear from the site, it is difficult to accept that they are gone," he said. "Of course, it is God's will."

Gulperi Ayan said a friend was on the plane because he was going to attend his grandmother's funeral in Isparta. "Now we have two funerals to hold," she said.

Isparta Gov. Semsettin Uzunnor said the crash site was not on the plane's regular flight route. "It is impossible to understand how the plane" ended up there, said Uzun, who viewed the scene from a helicopter.

Dogan news agency released a transcript of the conversation between the Atlasjet pilot and the Isparta control tower, but the exchange did not indicate any problem.

At 1:36 a.m., the pilot was quoted as saying, "Isparta tower, we are inbound." The tower responded, "Understood, Atlasjet. Continue to approach."

The civil aviation authority said communication with the plane was interrupted on its final approach to Suleyman Demirel airport in Isparta at 1:45 a.m.

Atlasjet, a private airline established in 2001, operates regular flights inside Turkey and chartered flights to Europe and other foreign destinations.

In 2005, one of its planes ran off the runway in winter conditions, but the company had not been involved in any fatal accidents. In August, one of its planes was hijacked by two men who held several passengers hostage for four hours before surrendering.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed condolences.

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