Source AP ©

88 dead in plane crash on Phuket

Survivors of a plane crash on the Thai resort island of Phuket described scenes of passengers on fire and leaping from exits to save themselves.

One-Two-Go Airlines flight OG269 was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew to Phuket from the Thai capital, Bangkok, said Monrudee Gettuphan, spokeswoman for Airports of Thailand. There were 78 foreigners on board, she said.

The deputy governor of Phuket province, Worapot Ratthaseema, said the dead included French, German, Israeli, Australian and British nationals. Their names were not released.

It was not immediately clear how many foreigners had died, he said. However, Thailand's Public Health Ministry issued a list of almost 30 foreign survivors.

Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was attempting to land in driving wind and rain but skidded off the runaway, ran though a low retaining wall and broke into two parts. Survivors said they escaped from emergency exits as the plane caught fire.

About 60 bodies were retrieved quickly, but it took hours to get the other bodies out. Three bodies remained in the wreckage about nine hours after the accident, said Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um.

Survivors said the plane landed hard and out of control.

"Our plane was landing, you can tell it was in trouble, because it kind of landed then came up again the second time," said John Gerard O'Donnell of Ireland, speaking from his hospital bed.

"I came out on the wing of the plane ... the exit door, it was kind of crushed and I had to squeeze through. And saw my friend, he was outside. He just got out before me. And next thing, it really caught fire, then I just got badly burned, my face, my legs, my arms."

Piyanooch Ananpakdee, a coordinator at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, where 30 of the survivors were taken, said they told her passengers had stepped on each other as they tried to flee the aircraft as it filled with black smoke.

Many of those injured had broken legs and similar injuries from jumping from the burning plane, she said.

Officials said it was too early to establish the cause of the crash, but some said the weather was likely a factor.

"The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around (make another landing attempt) but the plane lost balance and crashed," said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand. "It was torn into two parts."

Regardless of the cause, the accident was likely to raise fresh questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have burgeoned in the past few years. None of Thailand's budget airlines, including One-Two-Go, had previously suffered a major accident, but there have been several calamitous crashes in Indonesia.

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 first put into service in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March this year.

"As soon as we hit, everything went dark and everything fell," said Mildred Furlong, 23, a waitress from Prince George, British Columbia, in Canada. The plane started filling with smoke and fires broke out, she said. A passenger in front of her caught fire, while one in the back kicked out a plane window.

"I saw passengers engulfed in fire as I stepped over them on the way out of the plane," Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said on The Nation TV channel. "I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away."

Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runway. Searchers in masks converged on the plane, carrying bodies wrapped in white sheets to an airport storage building.

Dr. Charnsilp Wacharajira, who carried out autopsies on some of those killed, said they died of traumatic injuries to the head, indicating that the impact of the crash rather than the fire killed them.

Piyanooch said there were five people in critical condition at her hospital, including a British woman with burns over 60 percent of her body and another person with broken ribs.

Many of passengers had been planning to vacation at Phuket, an island popular with Thai and foreign tourists for its pristine beaches. It suffered another tragedy in December 2004, when it was among the areas hit hardest by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which left more than 8,000 dead in Thailand.

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.

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