Investigators searched on Monday through charred remains of a plane that crashed and killed 89 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 on Sunday while landing in driving wind and rain, catching fire and engulfing some passengers in flames as others kicked out windows to escape.
Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um told reporters that 89 people, including 53 foreigners, were killed in the crash, and 41 others injured. The crash was Thailand's worst air accident in a decade.
A One-Two-Go list of dead passengers obtained by
The Associated Press
shows that among the dead foreigners are four Americans, three Iranians as well as a French, British, Swedish and an Australian passenger.
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 ascertain 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.
The Indonesian pilot and Thai co-pilot also were killed in the crash.
Israel _ which had 10 citizens on the flight _ has sent medics and rescue personnel to help locate and identify any fatalities, according to the Israeli rescue service, Magen David Adom. 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," Dalad said, reading from a prepared statement. "We are doing our best to investigate and are working to help the remaining survivors and families and relatives to get through this as quickly as they can." Sansern said that the Phuket airport will reopen at 5 pm local time (1000 GMT), since all the debris, including a wing and fuselage from Flight OG269, had been removed. 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.
"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 planned a 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 and other areas of Thailand along the Andaman Sea coast. Finance Minister Chalangphob Sussangkarn said the crash probably wouldn't affect tourism _ a key money maker for Thailand _ but said officials would "have to take a look at the procedures and the security standards and investigate what happened." Still, the crash already was affecting flights, because the Phuket airport remained closed.
Thai Airways, the country's national carrier, said that until the airport reopened, it would reroute flights destined for Phuket to the airport in Krabi, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) to the east. It was Thailand's deadliest aviation accident since December 11, 1998, when 101 people were killed when a Thai Airways plane crashed while trying to land in heavy rain at Surat Thani, 530 kilometers (330 miles) south of Bangkok. Forty-five people survived. The accident raised new questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have experienced rapid growth in recent years and often scramble to find qualified pilots. Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines. According to Thai and US aviation registration data, the plane that crashed in Phuket was manufactured and put into use in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March this year.
One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003 and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand.
Orient-Thai Airlines owner, Udom Tantiprasongchai, has had a colorful history in the aviation industry. He's credited with establishing the country's first budget carrier and his Orient-Thai Airlines has transported refugees around the world for the United Nations, according to
newspaper on Monday. But he also has had his problems. His first airline venture, Cambodian International Airlines went under in 1998, and he has struggled to compete against better financed rivals like Air Asia,
Udom could not be immediately reached for comment. One-Two-Go set up telephone hot lines for information on passengers: +66-851554622, +66-859115092, +66-859183422, +66-25357662, +66-25043227 and +66-25043641.