Jet With 56 Aboard Crashes in Turkey

YESILYURT, Turkey --

An Atlasjet plane crashed on a rocky mountain shortly before it was due to land in southwest Turkey early Friday, killing all 56 people on board. The cause was not immediately known.

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."

Dagci said he and other rescue workers had rushed to the scene, but quickly lost hope of finding survivors when they saw the extent of the devastation.

The MD-83, carrying 49 passengers and seven crew members, took off from Istanbul around 1 a.m. local time headed to Isparta on a flight of about one hour, but went off the radar just before landing at the airport.

At about 7 a.m., a rescue helicopter reached the plane's wreckage near the village of Yesilyurt, in Isparta province, and reported that no one had survived the crash, said Tuncay Doganer, the airline's chief executive.

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

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

Investigators found the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which will help them determine the cause of the crash, 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 dismembered and not identifiable, firefighter Osman Emir said.

Ali Ceylan said his daughter-in-law, 22-year-old Melike Ceylan, his 6-week-old grandson Caner, and his son's mother-in-law perished in the crash. Caner was born in Istanbul and the family was returning to their home in Isparta.

"We were going to see our grandson for the first time. He died before we were able to see his face," Ceylan said. "It's very hard for us. It's enough to make us go mad."

He said his son, a police officer, was in shock and being treated with tranquilizers.

Cengiz Dincer, a man at the crash site, 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, who also traveled to the crash site, said a friend, stage actor Sakir Ozsoy, 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.

A team of investigators, including two pilots, three engineers and an air traffic control expert, went to the area, Anatolia reported. Forensic experts were also sent to investigate.

In a statement, Atlasjet said the wreckage of the plane was found on a mountain around 5,000 feet high, and that rescuers initially had difficulty reaching the site because of the rugged terrain.

The area where the plane crashed is called Turbe Tepe, which means "Shrine Peak" in Turkish. Much of the wreckage lay amid snow patches 650 feet from the top of the mountain.

The plane was spotted five hours after it went missing. Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said it crashed 7 miles from the Isparta airport.

Turkish media released a list of passengers. All names were Turkish. The dead included a group of academics who planned to take part in a physics conference at an Isparta university. Among them was Engin Arik, a prominent female nuclear physics professor from Istanbul's Bosporus University.

Semsettin Uzun, the governor of Isparta, 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 site from a helicopter.

The plane had broken into pieces, with its fuselage and rear landing in different locations. Anatolia said the plane's wings and engine were at the top of a hill while the fuselage was lower.

Dogan news agency released a transcript of the conversation between the Atlasjet pilot and the Isparta control tower, but the exchange did not indicate the plane was in trouble.

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.

Previous accidents in Turkey include a Turkish Airlines plane that crashed in January 2003 while attempting to land on a fog-covered runway in the city of Diyarbakir, killing 75 people. Five people survived with injuries.

In May 2003, 62 Spanish soldiers returning from peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan and 13 crew members were killed aboard a Ukrainian charter flight that crashed on a fog-shrouded mountain slope near the Turkish Black Sea port city of Trabzon.

In 1994, a Turkish Airlines jet crashed in the eastern province of Van as the pilot tried to land in a snowstorm despite repeated warnings from the control tower to turn back. Fifty-four people were killed.


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

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