Airline official says wind shear may have caused plane crash in Thailand that killed 89

PHUKET, Thailand --

Investigators searched Monday through charred remains of a plane that crashed and killed 89 people - mostly foreigners - on Thailand's resort island of Phuket, while an airline official said wind shear may have doomed the flight.

An unofficial list compiled by the Thai Foreign Ministry showed that among the dead are six Britons, three Israelis, two Americans, two French nationals, and one victim each from Australia, Germany, Iran, Ireland and Sweden.

However, the list is incomplete as more than 30 foreign fatalities had not yet been identified.

The budget One-Two-Go Airlines flight was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew from Bangkok to Phuket when it skidded off a runway Sunday while landing in driving wind and rain, catching fire and engulfing some passengers in flames as others kicked out windows to escape.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um told reporters that 89 people, including 53 foreigners, were killed in the crash, and 41 others injured. The crash was Thailand's worst air accident in a decade.

Maj. Gen. Santhan Chayanon, said that bodies of the foreign victims will be kept in refrigerated containers at the airport until their families claim them.

Investigators said they had recovered the plane's two flight data recorders, known as "black boxes," and hoped they would yield some answers about the accident in a few weeks. It could take a year to analyze the data, officials said.

"We are still unable to say the cause of the accident," Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen said. "The officials have found the black boxes and will send them for analysis to the United States. Hopefully, we will learn in a few weeks the cause of accident."

Kajit Habnanonda, president of Orient-Thai Airlines, which owns One-Two-Go, said wind shear - the rapid change in wind speed which can impact takeoffs and landings - was a possible cause of the accident.

"It is possible that the plane crash was caused by wind shear," Kajit said, adding that heavy rains could have contributed to the plane skidding off the runway.

The Indonesian pilot and Thai co-pilot also were killed in the crash.

Israel - which had 10 citizens on the flight - has sent medics and rescue personnel to help locate and identify any fatalities, according the Israeli rescue service, Magen David Adom.

Dalad Tantiprasongchai, a business development manager with Orient-Thai Airlines, said the airliner would be providing 100,000 baht (US$3,125, euro2,253) initially to families of the dead for the funeral and other costs.

"We are deeply sorry about all the losses," Dalad said, reading from a prepared statement. "We are doing our best to investigate and are working to help the remaining survivors and families and relatives to get through this as quickly as they can."

Phuket airport, which had been closed after the crash, reopened late Monday afternoon after virtually all the debris from Flight OG269, had been removed. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was on the first flight to the reopened airport, and he paid a call on hospitalized survivors.

"I can't say how sad I am," said Phitan Chanthanaporn, who was rushing to visit her Swiss husband Robert Borland who was on the flight and was hospitalized. "I don't want to blame anyone. I just want the airlines to take good care of foreign victims."

Survivors described how the plane was preparing to land in heavy rains, when it suddenly lifted off again and then came crashing down on the runway. It rammed through a low retaining wall and split in two after it crashed.

"I think he realized the runway was too close or he was too fast or the wind had hit him," Borland, a survivor who now lives in Australia, told The Associated Press. "He accelerated and tried to pull out. I thought he is going around again and the next thought was everything went black and there was a big mess and we hit the ground."

Borland, 48, said his pants caught fire and he managed to drag himself to an exit where he was pulled by another survivor from the plane to safety. "People were screaming. There was a fire in the cabin and my clothes caught fire," he said.

Many of the passengers had planned to vacation at Phuket, a popular beach resort that was among the areas hit hardest by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 8,000 people on the island and other areas of Thailand along the Andaman Sea coast.

Finance Minister Chalongphob Sussangkarn said the crash probably wouldn't affect tourism - a key money maker for Thailand - but said officials would "have to take a look at the procedures and the security standards and investigate what happened."

It was Thailand's deadliest aviation accident since Dec. 11, 1998, when 101 people were killed when a Thai Airways plane crashed while trying to land in heavy rain at Surat Thani, 530 kilometers (330 miles) south of Bangkok. Forty-five people survived.

The new accident raised new questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have experienced rapid growth in recent years and often scramble to find qualified pilots.

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 this year.

One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003 and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand.

Orient-Thai Airlines owner, Udom Tantiprasongchai, has had a colorful history in the aviation industry. He's credited with establishing the country's first budget carrier and his Orient-Thai Airlines has transported refugees around the world for the United Nations, said Dalad, who is also Udom's daughter.

But he also has had his problems. His first airline venture, Cambodian International Airlines went under in 1998, and he has struggled to compete against better financed rivals like Air Asia, she said.

One-Two-Go set up telephone hot lines for information on passengers: +66-851554622, +66-859115092, +66-859183422, +66-25357662, +66-25043227 and +66-25043641.


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Loading