Source AP ©

Plane crashes in Turkey; 56 people die

An Atlasjet plane going from Istanbul to Isparta crashed just before it was to land in the airport. All 56 people on board died.

A rescue helicopter had reached the wreckage of the plane on a mountainous region near the town of Keciborlu, in Isparta province, and reported back that no one had survived the crash, airline CEO Tuncay Doganer said.

The MD 83 jetliner with 49 passengers and seven crew members, took off from Istanbul at 00:50 a.m. (2250GMT), headed to Isparta, but went off the radar just before landing at the airport.

Helicopters took off from Ankara, the capital, to search for the plane. It was spotted some five hours after it went missing.

Doganer said the cause of the crash was not known. He ruled out weather conditions as a possible cause, saying there was no fog or strong winds at the time of the crash.

"There was no abnormal situation where weather conditions or the plane's technical condition are concerned," Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said.

A reporter for the state-run news agency, Anatolia , who reached the scene on board a police helicopter said bodies were lying around the wreckage, some still attached to their seats. Pieces of the wreckage and personal belongings were strewn across a vast area. The planes front and rear were smashed. Rescue crews were seen placing the dead into body bags.

Soldiers had sealed off the area, keeping people from nearby villages from approaching the wreckage, Anatolia said.

Yildirim said the plane crashed some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from the airport.

The 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 has 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 until they surrendered.

Families of the passengers first rushed to the airports of Istanbul and Isparta for news of their loved ones and later began heading toward the crash scene, private NTV television reported.

In recent plane crashes in Turkey, a Turkish Airlines plane came down in January 2003 while attempting to land on a fog-covered runway in the city of Diyarbakir, killing 75 people. Five people survived the crash with injuries.

In May that year, 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 as the pilot tried to land in a snowstorm despite repeated warnings from the control tower to turn back. Fifty-four people were killed.

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