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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2009

125 survive jetliner crash near Amsterdam; 9 dead, including 2 pilots

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

HAARLEMMERLIEDE, Netherlands - The host of a popular Dutch television show was half-dozing with her head against the window of the Turkish Airlines jetliner when she was shocked awake by the sight of the ground looming up through the mist and drizzle.

There was no warning from the cockpit to brace for landing when the Boeing 737-800 with 134 people on board slammed into a muddy field yesterday about two miles short of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, breaking into pieces.

The fuselage tore in two near the cockpit and the tail was ripped off. Despite the catastrophic impact the wreckage did not burn and nearly everyone - 125 people - survived. The nine dead included both pilots.

TV host Jihad Alariachi was among those who walked away unscathed, scrambling out of the wreckage through emergency exits or cracks in the shattered fuselage.

"The ground was coming near by, really near by," Ms. Alariachi told Dutch radio station BNR. "Then we braked really hard The nose went up. And then we bounced with the nose aloft."

She and her sister escaped through an exit "onto the wing, and then we were in a field, walking around," she said, her nose bloodied and her shoes missing.

More than 50 people were injured, about half of them seriously.

The weather was calm, with a light drizzle. Dutch air traffic controllers would say nothing about whether there was any distress signal as the plane neared the end of its nearly four-hour flight from Istanbul.

Authorities said the toll could have been far higher if the plane had not gone down in mud, which lessened the impact and helped avert a fire in the ruptured fuel tanks and lines on the underside of the fuselage.

In addition, having reached its destination, the plane had used up most of its fuel, lessening the chances of a fuel-driven fire.

"The fact that the plane landed on a soft surface and that there was no fire helped keep the number of fatalities low," Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said, adding that it was "a miracle" there were not more casualties.

The head of the Dutch Safety Authority, Pieter van Vollenhoven, said the plane appeared to have lost speed before crashing,and witnesses said it dropped from about 300 feet.

"You see that because of a lack of speed it literally fell out of the sky," he told NOS radio.

Four Boeing employees traveling on business were aboard the plane, according to Jim Proulx, a spokesman for the company. All four are based in the Seattle area.

He said Boeing was sending a team to provide technical assistance to Dutch safety officials as they investigate.

The plane's flight data recorders were recovered and were to be analyzed by experts.

Experts say crashes involving modern airliners are more survivable due to engineering advances that have resulted in strengthened structures and fire retardant technologies used for cabin seats and furnishings, as well as better emergency training of cockpit and cabin crews.

The most dramatic example of passenger survival was the Hudson River landing last month of a US Airways Airbus A320 that lost engine power when it struck a flock of birds. All 155 passengers and crew lived despite the watery landing.

As with yesterday's crash, most of the survivable accidents have occurred at or near airports, and in most cases the pilots maintained control, maneuvering to soften the final impact.

Investigators said two pilots and an apprentice pilot were among the dead.

Six of the injured were in critical condition, 25 were seriously hurt, and 24 had slight injuries, health authorities said.

There were 72 Turks and 32 Dutch citizens on board, the Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands, Selahattin Alpar, told the Anatolia news agency.



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