BISHKEK (AFP) – A cargo plane attempting to land in thick fog crashed on Monday (Jan 19) into a village near Kyrgyzstan’s main airport and killed at least 37 people, with authorities blaming “pilot error”.
A massive section of the aircraft’s tail billowed smoke as rescuers searched for victims among the wreckage in the village of Dacha-Suu, home to the majority of the dead.
“According to preliminary information, the plane crashed due to a pilot error,” deputy prime minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziev said at a briefing broadcast on state television.
A minimum of 37 people, including the plane’s four pilots, were killed in the crash and the toll may rise, said a spokesman for the country’s emergency services, Muhammed Svarov.
The plane was attempting a landing at the Manas airport in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in thick fog.
Crushed cars, shattered homes and huge chunks of burnt debris littered the village, which was hit by the plane at around 7:30am (0130 GMT), as many residents were still at home in bed.
“Our grandson said something was burning,” Tajikan, a Dacha Suu resident who identified herself only by her first name, told AFP.
“We heard a roar and (what felt) like an earthquake. Many people were sleeping, everything around was burning. One of the parts of the aircraft fell on our neighbour’s house. She and her whole family died,” the pensioner said.
Zumriyat Rezakhanova, another resident of Dacha-Suu, said the plane fell “right on the homes” where residents were sleeping.
“My sister’s home is badly damaged. Luckily she and her family survived,” Rezakhanova told AFP.
The flight was travelling from Hong Kong to Istanbul via Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.
ACT Airlines, a Turkish cargo airline, said in a statement that its Boeing 747-400 was involved in the crash.
ACT Airlines said it was “deeply saddened” by the crash and noted that “the cause of the accident is unknown.” Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, meanwhile extended its “deepest condolences” over the crash and offered to assist Kyrgyz authorities with the investigation.
Elmira Sheripova, a spokeswoman for the emergency services ministry, told AFP that 17 houses had been “completely destroyed” by the crashing plane.
The country’s Manas airport has since opened despite air authorities initially saying that the airport would remain closed until the evening.
Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov was heading a specially-appointed government commission to probe the crash and the country’s state prosecutor also opened an investigation.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev cancelled his visit to China to return to Bishkek, according to Kyrgyz media.
Authorities said the country will observe a day of mourning on Tuesday.