DACHA-SUU (Kyrgyzstan) • A cargo plane attempting to land in thick fog crashed yesterday into a village near Kyrgyzstan's main airport, killing at least 37 people, with the authorities blaming "pilot error".
Smoke billowed from a massive section of the aircraft's tail 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.
At least 37 people, including the plane's four pilots, were killed in the crash. Several children were among the victims. A spokesman for the country's emergency services, Mr Muhammed Svarov, said the toll may rise.
The plane was attempting a landing at Manas International Airport in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in thick fog, which led to poor visibility.
Crushed cars and huge chunks of burnt debris littered the village, which was hit by the plane at around 7.30am as many residents were still at home in bed.
"Our grandson said something was burning," said Ms Tajikan, a local resident.
"We heard a roar... 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.
Resident Zumriyat Rezakhanova 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."
Locals said they initially thought the area had been struck by an earthquake. The doomed plane had ploughed on for a few hundred metres, shattering into pieces and damaging dozens of buildings.
"I heard a strong (noise) and after that, all the nearest houses were shaken," said Mr Andrei Andreyev. "Of course, everyone got frightened and started to run out of the houses to the street. Nobody understood what was going on because there was fog, the weather was not good."
The plane was travelling from Hong Kong to Istanbul via Bishkek.
ACT Airlines, a Turkish cargo airline, said in a statement that its Boeing 747-400 was involved in the crash.
The airline said it was "deeply saddened" by the crash and noted that "the cause of the accident is unknown".
Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, extended its "deepest condolences" over the crash and offered to assist the Kyrgyz authorities with the investigation.
Ms Elmira Sheripova, a spokesman for the Emergency Services Ministry, said 17 houses had been "completely destroyed" by the plane crash.
Tents were set up to help shelter displaced residents from temperatures of minus 11 deg C.
The country's Manas airport has since reopened despite the aviation authorities initially saying it would remain closed until the evening.
Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov is heading a specially appointed government commission to probe the crash, and the country's state prosecutor has also opened an investigation.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev cancelled his visit to China to return to Bishkek, according to Kyrgyz media.
The authorities said the country will observe a day of mourning today for the crash victims.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES