Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Thai rescuers struggle to retrieve bodies from plane


Rescue teams hampered by monsoon rains yesterday pulled the last bodies from the charred wreckage of a budget airliner that crashed while trying to land on the Thai resort island of Phuket, killing 89 people.

Investigators sifted through the gutted McDonnell Douglas MD-82 that had veered off the runway, smashed into a wooded embankment and burst into flames as it tried to land during a fierce monsoon storm on Sunday.

Thai Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said the final death toll was 34 Thais and 55 foreigners, many of them European holidaymakers.

The Indonesian captain and his Thai co-pilot were both killed, but 41 people survived a crash likely to raise more safety questions about the dozens of budget carriers that have sprung up across Asia in the last decade. Five survivors were in critical condition, with burns to 60 percent of their bodies, hospital officials said.

Fourteen Thais, seven Britons, five Iranians and four Germans were among those injured. The number of survivors was cut by one after a Scotsman was mistakenly included on the list.

Australia offered to help identify the victims, which so far are known to include four Americans, one French national and at least one Australian among the foreigners. There has been no word on the nationalities of the other dead.

Flights to Phuket, dubbed the "Pearl of the Andaman", were canceled or rerouted through Krabi, a smaller resort town about 185km east of Thailand's biggest island.

Officials expected Phuket airport to reopen later yesterday.

Investigators said they had recovered the plane's two flight data recorders, known as "black boxes," and hoped they would yield some answers about the accident in a few weeks.

It could take a year to analyze the data, officials said.

"We are still unable to say the cause of the 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.

An Australian man who was dragged burning from the wreckage of the jetliner yesterday said he owed his life to the stranger who pulled him to safety.

"There was fire in the cabin, my clothes caught fire, my trousers," Robert Borland, 48, who is recovering in hospital, told Australia's Sky News.

"I was able to drag myself across to the other side, which is where the exit row was. A person was able to assist me, drag me out of the aircraft."

It was Thailand's deadliest aviation accident since Dec. 11, 1998, when 101 people were killed when a Thai Airways plane crashed while trying to land in heavy rain at Surat Thani, 530km south of Bangkok. Forty-five people survived.

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