Passengers Say Crumpled Istanbul Flight Landed Very Fast

February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020

Passengers who lived through the crash landing in Istanbul that killed three people and left a Turkish plane crumpled into pieces say the plane’s descent felt unusually fast.

Engin Demir, who was injured in the crash, told NTV television that he really noticed the speed as the Boeing 737 operated by low-cost Pegasus Airline landed at Sabiha Gokcen Airport on Feb. 5 evening.

Coming in amid strong winds and heavy rain, the plane overshot the runway. It skidded about 50 to 60 meters (165 to 200 feet) before it dropped into a 30-meter (98-foot) deep ditch, according to the city’s governor, Ali Yerlikaya. The 11-year-old plane broke into three pieces, forcing passengers to squeeze out through cracks and climb out onto its damaged wings. In addition to the deaths, 180 people were injured, authorities said.

“With the speed, I think it was not able to stop. It all happened in 2–3 seconds,” Demir said from his hospital bed in Istanbul.

Demir said he was trapped for a while by plane debris falling from the luggage compartment.

“There were screams and shouts. I tried to calm people around me. Help soon arrived,” he said.

Another survivor, Alper Kulu, told the DHA news agency the flight was “abnormal from the start to the finish.”

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Soldiers guard the wreckage of a plane operated by Pegasus Airlines after it skidded Wednesday off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 6, 2020. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

“It was a very turbulent flight. The plane touched down with difficulty. It was very speedy compared to other flights,” he said, adding that “a ‘Welcome to Istanbul’ announcement was made after the wheels touched down.”

He said the plane suddenly swayed left and right, then dipped to the left to fall into the steep ditch. He said the impact flipped the seats in front of him completely around. He said he pressed to get out since he feared the plane could explode.

“There was panic and shouting. Everyone was calling for help. I got out of the plane on my own, with a broken arm, I (climbed) 30–40 meters. I heard announcements that the plane could explode,” he said.

The plane, carrying 177 passengers and six crew members from the western Turkish city of Izmir, included people from 12 countries. Yerlikaya, speaking early Thursday, said all the injured were stable but four had significant injuries. He did not elaborate. The three dead were Turkish citizens.

Pegasus Airlines CEO Mehmet T. Nane told a press conference in Istanbul that the black boxes were retrieved and were being deciphered.

“It’s not easy to speak here when there are deaths, damages, injuries,” Nane said, choking up. He said Pegasus will work to heal the wounds caused by the deadly landing.

“There are tons of questions, how did it happen, why did it happen?” he said, adding that information would be shared by authorities and the company with the public when available.

Nane said the 180 injured were sent to 23 hospitals and 56 of them had already been treated and released.

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Rescue members evacuate an injured person from the wreckage of a plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 5, 2020.(Emrah Gurel/AP)

Pegasus Airlines changed its logo on Twitter to a blackened version in a sign of mourning and said its “priority is to support the relatives and friends who have lost loved ones.”

Nane said the company’s pilots were “encouraged” and trained to avoid risks, do stable approaches, bypass landings if necessary and divert to alternative airports. He said the airline safety’s scores were above European Union standards.

The company is majority-owned by Turkish billionaire Sevket Sabanci and his family, with 34.5 percent of shares floating in stock exchange Borsa Istanbul. Its fleet of 83 planes flies to more than 100 destinations.

Work continued at the crash site Thursday and crews were taking apart the interior as police guarded the wreckage. Flights resumed, although some delays and cancellations continued.

Despite Nane’s reassurances, Pegasus has had several recent instances of overshooting runways.

Another Pegasus Airlines plane skidded off the runway at the same Istanbul airport on Jan. 7, causing the temporary closure of the airport. There were no injuries.

In January 2018, another Boeing 737 in the Pegasus fleet slid off a runway at Trabzon Airport in northeastern Turkey. The plane came to rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed toward the water. No one was injured.

By Zeynep Bilginsoy