By SUTIN WANNABOVORN, AP
PHUKET, Thailand — Investigators searched Monday through charred remains of a plane that crashed and killed 90 people – mostly foreigners – on Thailand’s resort island of Phuket, while an airline official said wind shear may have doomed the flight.
The budget One-Two-Go Airlines flight was carrying 123 passengers and seven crew from Bangkok to Phuket when it skidded off a runway Sunday while landing in driving wind and rain, catching fire and engulfing some passengers in flames as others kicked out windows to escape.
Forty people were injured in the accident, Thailand’s worst air crash in a decade, and investigators were searching for at least five more bodies.
Investigators said Monday they had recovered the plane’s two flight data recorders, known as “black boxes,” which they hoped could yield some answers in a few weeks.
“We are still unable to say the cause of 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 accident.”
Kajit Habnanonda, president of Orient-Thai Airlines, which owns One-Two-Go, said wind shear – the rapid change in wind speed which can impact takeoffs and landings – was a possible cause of the accident.
“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.
A One-Two-Go list of dead passengers obtained by The Associated Press included 54 foreigners and 36 Thais. Among them are four Americans, three Iranians as well as a French, British, Swedish and an Australian passenger.
The Indonesian pilot and Thai co-pilot also were killed in the crash.
Dalad Tantiprasongchai, a business development manager with Orient-Thai Airlines, said the airliner would be providing 100,000 baht (US$3,125, euro2,253) initially to families of the dead for the funeral and other costs.
“We are deeply sorry about all the losses that have happened,” Dalad said, reading from a prepared statement. “We are doing our best to investigate and are working help the remaining survivors and families and relatives to get through this as quickly as they can.”
With the Phuket airport closed until at least 5 p.m. local time (1000 GMT), several dozen distraught relatives gathered at Don Muang Airport trying to catch flights to the nearest airport in Krabi province.
“I can’t say how sad I am,” said Phitan Chanthanaporn, who was rushing to visit her Swiss husband Robert Borland who was on the flight and was hospitalized. “I don’t want to blame anyone. I just want the airlines to take good care of foreign victims.”
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.
Survivors described their escape amid chaos, smoke and fire.
“I think he realized the runway was too close or he was too fast or the wind had hit him,” Borland, a survivor who now lives in Australia, told The Associated Press. “He accelerated and tried to pull out. I thought he is going around again and the next thought was everything went black and there was a big mess and we hit the ground.”
Borland, 48, said his pants caught fire and he managed to drag himself to an exit where he was pulled by another survivor from the plane to safety. “People were screaming. There was a fire in the cabin and my clothes caught fire,” he said.
Many of the passengers had been planning 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.