Myanmar was yesterday investigating the cause of an air accident that left two people dead and 11 injured when a passenger jet packed with foreign tourists crash-landed and caught fire.
The incident raised fresh questions about the safety standards of Myanmar’s fast-growing, but overstretched, aviation and tourist industries as foreign visitors flock to the country as it emerges from decades of junta rule.
The aging Fokker 100 jet came down in thick fog on Tuesday in a field short of the runway at Heho airport — the gateway to the popular tourist destination of Inle Lake — breaking its tail and catching fire, Burmese officials said.
One Burmese tour guide on board was killed along with a motorcyclist on the ground.
The airline said the injured included two Americans who were flown to Bangkok, Thailand, for treatment. Two Britons, one South Korean man and the two pilots were also hurt.
“We are still working to find out the cause,” the deputy director-general of the Burmese Civil Aviation Department, Win Swe Tun, who is heading the investigation into the crash, told reporters.
He said the plane appeared to have hit a power cable while approaching the runway.
“Seventy of the 71 people on board survived and one died — it’s very rare,” he added.
Air Bagan, which described the accident as an “emergency landing,” said it had retrieved the plane’s black box data recorder.
One eyewitness said flames were already spewing from the plane before it crash-landed.
“We followed the plane as it flew on fire,” 27-year-old villager Phoe La Pyae said. “When we saw the plane, the wing was broken already. It was so lucky. If the emergency exit had not been opened, no one would have survived.”
“We helped to send some seriously injured people to hospital. Their skin was burnt because of fire. Foreigners seemed really scared about what happened,” he added.
A Swiss survivor, Leandre Guillod, told British broadcaster the BBC from a hospital in Rangoon that the plane was flying through clouds shortly before it crashed.
“Suddenly, we just hit the ground and then it was all red and orange,” the 28-year-old said, adding that a stewardess had opened the emergency exit.
“I was pretty much at the back ... there was an opening above the wing, there was lots of fire so me and my girlfriend just jumped because we thought it was better to get out as soon as possible before it might explode,” Guillod said.
The body of the aircraft was almost entirely burned, while part of a wing was seen lying next to a nearby road, a reporter at the scene said.
“Air Bagan deeply regret the deaths of two persons and tender its condolences to the bereaved families,” the airline said in an English-language statement posted on its Facebook page. “Air Bagan in collaboration with the [Burmese] Ministry of Transport is investigating into the cause of the accident. We will take full responsibility for all passengers and will release further information as we received it.”