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 were 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 positively identified.

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

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um told reporters that 89 people, including 53 foreigners, were killed in the crash, and 41 others injured.

According to a transcript of the conversation between the control tower and the plane, ground officials informed the Indonesian pilot, Arief Mulyadi, about wind shear at the airport but he decided to land anyway, the Air Transport Department's director-general, Chaisak Ungsuwan, said on The Nation TV channel.

"The last word the pilot said was 'landing,'" he said.

Wind shear refers to sudden changes in the wind along a plane's flight path which can result in a disastrous loss of lift on the wings.

"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 the accident." Others suggested it could take a year to determine the cause.

Kajit Habnanonda, president of Orient-Thai Airlines, which owns One-Two-Go, said wind shear could have been a factor.

"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.

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

Authorities will also collect DNA samples of unidentified victims, he said.

The Indonesian pilot and Thai co-pilot were both 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 airline would provide an initial 100,000 baht (US$3,125; €2,255) to families of the dead for 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 was 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 don't think this will have an impact on tourism in Thailand because tourists understand that it is an accident," Surayud told reporters.

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.

Australian Robert Borland, 48, said his pants were on fire and he managed to drag himself to an exit, where he was pulled by another survivor 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 carriers use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 plane which crashed in Phuket was 24 years old and began flying in Thailand in March this year.

One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003.